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E-cigarettes: A ‘Quit Smoking’ Tool or a Drug-Using Device?

E-cigarettes have been touted as a great way to quit smoking, a smoke-free nicotine vehicle that allows the “smoker” to avoid the carcinogens in cigarettes and the negative effects of smoke as they work on cutting back on nicotine until they are no longer addicted to the substance. Unfortunately, a number of concerns have slowly started to come to light, and one of them is the fact that the devices may not be used just for nicotine but for other addictive substances – some illegal. Teen use of e-cigarettes is also a concern. Rather than treating an addiction to cigarettes and helping teens to quit smoking, the concern is that many are using the devices because they are trendy and thus developing a nicotine addiction that they didn’t have before. Most school districts immediately took an anti- stance against e-cigarettes just as they do all tobacco products, but now many are banning e-cigarettes from school grounds because they are considered a drug-using device. Is the risk real? Should you be concerned about your child’s use of e-cigarettes?

The Risks Are Real

It’s not just their use for abusing illicit drugs and the potential for causing or furthering nicotine addiction among teens. According to The Wall Street Journal, there are a number of problems with the current e-cigarettes on the market. These include:
  • Health risks are still an issue. Because e-cigarettes are smokeless, it is easy to assume that they are a far healthier choice as compared to standard cigarettes, but it seems that may not necessarily be the case. Yes, their use does not mean regular smoke inhalation, but it doesn’t mean that the user is not ingesting a host of chemicals – and if they were perfectly safe, the companies would not urge nonsmokers to avoid using the devices.
 
  • The reign of “Big Tobacco” carries on. At first, it seemed that e-cigarettes were a viable competitor to standard cigarettes, that their use was undermining the giant industry that is currently producing regular tobacco products. Not so. Almost every one of the largest tobacco companies has an e-cigarette on the market and is profiting just as much off sales as they are off the sales of standard cigarettes.
 
  • These are not necessarily the best method to quit smoking. Only 3 percent of people who quit smoking said that e-cigarettes helped them, as compared to 2 percent who cited prescription medication as their help method of choice and 1 percent who used nicotine gum – and a host of others who used support systems, hypnosis, or another method.
 
  • Ecigarettes are not FDA-approved. The FDA has not said that e-cigarettes are a viable method to quit smoking or that they are safe to use. In fact, there is not even a Surgeon General’s warning on the packaging – yet. Though there are more than 250 brands of e-cigarettes advertised on TV and available on store shelves, there are almost no FDA guidelines of any kind regulating their production, use, or sales.
 
  • Ecigarettes can be used to vaporize illicit drugs. School administrators are right to view e-cigarettes as potential drug-using devices, especially for drugs like crystal meth and cocaine – and kids are one of the most likely groups to be using them for this purpose. The fact that they are readily acceptable in public places means that users may feel safer getting high out in the open, or that someone may inadvertently use a drug they didn’t expect to thinking that they are trying an e-cigarette device loaded with a nicotine cartridge.
 
  • Kids are using e-cigarettes. This is arguably one of the largest problems with the widespread trend of e-cigarettes. Not one company or health organization believes that it’s okay for kids to use e-cigarettes, yet more and more kids in middle school and high school are using the devices. An estimated 7 percent of students, about 2 million kids, used e-cigarettes between 2011 and 2012 – that’s too many.

The Risk of Nicotine Addiction and Drug Abuse

The fact that kids may be using a device that could lead to dependence upon nicotine and/or the development of a substance abuse problem should be very worrisome to parents. No use of these devices is acceptable for children. If you find one in your child’s possession or find that he or she is using the device with friends, be proactive. You are encouraged to:
  • Be on the lookout for e-cigarettes in your children’s possessions.
  • Talk about the myths and facts behind e-cigarettes with their kids.
  • Create house rules and a “zero-tolerance” policy around e-cigarette use.
  • Enforce consequences if those rules are broken.
If it becomes clear that your teen is using e-cigarettes and/or other drugs or alcohol, don’t ignore the problem. Immediate intervention on your part can be a game changer for your child, help him or her to get back on track, and avoid the bulk of problems associated with teen substance abuse, including:
  • Academic issues (e.g., lower grades, suspension, expulsion, etc.)
  • Lost opportunities (e.g., extracurricular activities, college admissions, afterschool work options, etc.)
  • Interpersonal problems (e.g., losing friends at school who don’t use drugs, problems with parents and siblings at home, etc.)
  • Legal issues (e.g., arrest for drug use, possession, or behaviors under the influence)
  • Health problems (e.g., overdose, accident, exacerbation of underlying medical issues, etc.)
Learn more about the type of treatment services that will be most effective for teens struggling with substance abuse today. You can help your teen regain a healthy lifestyle.

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