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E-cigarettes are becoming more popular with teens.

November 18, 2013

Over the past year, the use of electronic cigarettes among middle and high school students has more than doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One in fifteen students in grades six through twelve report having smoked an e-cigarette sometime in their lives.

Even more troubling? Experts predict this trend to continue as tobacco companies pour millions of dollars into marketing campaigns that depict celebrities glamorizing the e-cigarette.

Remember Joe Camel, the Marlboro Man, and the Virginia Slims girls?

Those iconic symbols of the ‘70s and ‘80s were responsible for luring millions of young men and women deep into nicotine addiction. And now that the use of traditional cigarettes continues to decline, tobacco companies are setting their sites on a new product: the e-cigarette.

Tobacco companies state that they are not targeting adolescents for e-cigarette use (in fact, some have placed age restrictions on the sale of their products), but the allure for teens is undeniable. Advertising campaigns featuring celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Stephen Dorff adhere to the hallmarks of the cigarette ads of decades past: smoking is sexy, rebellious, cool.

Tobacco companies also want you to believe that smoking an e-cigarette is a cleaner, healthier alternative to the traditional cigarette. And with flavorings available that remind you of a trip to the candy shop, e-cigarettes seem to have the perfect formula to lure teenagers.

Here’s the truth about e-cigarettes:

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that create an aerosol filled with nicotine and other chemicals, which the user inhales. The chemicals found in e-cigarettes vary greatly from one manufacturer to another because e-cigarettes aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (or anyone else).

Tobacco companies claim that e-cigarettes are healthier than traditional cigarettes. However, even the experts can’t say for sure what’s in them, and if we don’t know exactly what’s in them there’s no way to know how long-term use will affect young bodies.

Some e-cigarettes have been found to contain chemicals that are known carcinogens. Even the nicotine alone is inherently dangerous because of its addictive properties. Experts fear that e-cigarette use among teens could lead to the use of traditional cigarettes once they’re addicted.

E-cigarettes represent a lucrative market waiting to be tapped as the traditional cigarette market dwindles due to the myriad of health concerns associated with smoking. This competitive market will produce attractive advertising that will lure millions of people to try their product, and some of those people will be our teenagers.

What should you do?

Make sure you talk to your teenager (and pre-teen) about e-cigarettes, just as you talk to them about the dangers of smoking traditional cigarettes. Let them know that it can lead to a nicotine addiction just like the traditional kind, and that addiction can lead to a lifelong battle. Tell them that the chemicals they are inhaling aren’t good for them, even if it’s flavored like candy.

Talk about the reasons they might be interested in smoking- to look cool, to feel rebellious, to fit in- and address their concerns. Help them feel important and empowered to make their own decisions. Help them learn to look critically at advertising campaigns, television commercials and celebrity endorsements and ask themselves whether the things they’re being told are really true.

Throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, millions of young people were convinced through brilliant marketing and advertisements to try a cigarette. Back then, tobacco companies promised that cigarettes were, in fact, healthy and not dangerous (just as they are doing now with e-cigarettes).

Don’t let your teen be fooled. E-cigarettes aren’t worth the risk.