Dear Dr. Levister: Members of my family gave my teen e-cigarettes for Christmas. They argue the devices are a harmless form of entertainment…What should I do? G.W.
Dear G.W.: It is said knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.
Consider protecting your son by giving him the powerful gift of knowledge on electronic cigarettes: Are they safer than tobacco? Or are they a high-tech way to hook a new generation on a bad nicotine habit? Nobody knows yet.
Research into the effects of e-cigarettes lags behind their popularity. But ready or not, the era of e-cigarettes is here. It’s a booming, billion-dollar industry — on track to outsell tobacco products within a decade. The number of teens and tweens using these products doubled between 2011 and 2012.
They look like the real thing. The end glows as you inhale. As you exhale, you puff out a cloud of what looks like smoke. It’s vapor, similar to the fog you might see at rock shows.
All e-cigarettes work basically the same way. Inside, there’s a battery, a heating element, and a cartridge that holds nicotine and other liquids and flavorings. They come in child friendly flavors such as chocolate and cherry. Features and costs vary. Some are disposable. Others have a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridges.
Using an e-cigarette is called “vaping.” Are they safe? The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive. When you stop using it, you can get withdrawal symptoms including feeling irritable, depressed, restless and anxious. It can be dangerous for people with heart problems. It may also harm your arteries over time.
So far, evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes. The biggest danger from tobacco is the smoke, and e-cigarettes don’t burn. Tests show the levels of dangerous chemicals they give off are a fraction of what you’d get from a real cigarette. But what’s in them can vary.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working to finalize rules that would ban sales of the devices to anyone under 18.