Special report: Clouded youth
POSTED: Monday, May 19, 2014 - 4:16pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - 9:15am
EL PASO (KTSM) — The electronic cigarette industry has bloomed into a $2 billion industry. E-cigs are intended for use by adults who are looking for a healthier alternative to smoking, and those who are looking to quit.
Abad Garcia, e-cig smoker and employee at The Vape Shop said he's seen many people reduce their nicotine intake by using e-cigs.
But studies show they are being picked up by teenagers as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the use of e-cigs in high school students more than doubled in a period of year. In 2011, 4.7 percent of high school students said they had tried an e-cig. In 2012, that number was 10 percent.
About 90 percent of smokers say they started as teens, which is why many are working to put an end to the rise in e-cig use among teens.
The Food and Drug Administration recently announced they will start regulating electronic cigarettes.
Something many say, is overdue.
The Vape Shop, an electronic cigarette store, says popular flavors include Red Bull, mint lemon, raspberry and strawberry. They have a signed posted on their door that says they do not sell to minors. However, they say they are aware of the growing popularity among teens.
"They're drawn to things that are new and novel, and also a lot of the solutions have flavors in them, like gummy bear, cotton candy. these are flavors that don't usually appeal to adults. they appeal to children," said Jana Renner, Paso Del Norte associate program officer.
She adds, flavoring in banned in traditional cigarettes. The e-cig industry spent $20 million in advertising in 2012. Using flashy ads to capture the attention of potential users.
"Kids just pulling it out and just smoking and trying to impress other kids in class," said Marco, a high school student.
"They use them in public and restaurants like everywhere. The odor, sometimes it smells like cherry, it smells good and they think it tastes good too," said Adrian, a high school student.
While there are nicotine free options, experts say zero doesn't always mean zero due to the lack of FDA regulations.
"Zero level to them might be .13 milligrams of nicotine... Since it's not regulated by the FDA, you don't really know what you're consuming and you really don't know what you're buying," said Sarai Garcia, an educator with the Department of Health.
Long term effects, and the exact ingredients remain unknown.
For the developing adolescent body, any amount of nicotine could be dangerous.
"The youth that are using it are putting themselves at a potential risk for addiction and since they are at an age where they are developing, that addiction can come a lot stronger and a lot sooner at their age," Garcia said.
Garcia visits schools and talks to students about tobacco and other substance use. She said questions regarding e-cigs have become common.
The students unfortunately that ask us the most on e-cigarettes are the kindergartners and the first graders and the fifth graders. Mostly because out kindergartners and first graders, they don't really know what the product is, but they see their older sisters using it, their older brothers, their parents, their family members and they're seeing these products being used in public places," Garcia said.
This is why districts such as EPISD and YISD have stepped in.
"The policy that specifically dealt with electronic cigarettes was first put in the 2013-2014 school year which is this first year. We went ahead and felt that since it is a growing trend we wanted to make sure it was officially in the student handbook," said Patricia Ayala, spokesperson with YISD.
It's not just on the school level, the City is jumping on it as well.
Officials say they are working to change the city ordinance to include e-cigs, banning them on city owned or leased property.