The growing use of e-cigarettes among young people is a “public health threat,” according to a new report released Thursday by the U.S. Surgeon General.
The report is the first detailed federal review of the public health impact of e-cigarettes on the nation’s youth. It comes at a time when e-cigarette use among young people is at an all-time high. According to the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 16 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes during the past month, up from 1.5 percent in 2011.
Because the brain is still developing until about age 25, teens and young adults are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of nicotine, the report noted.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a press conference Thursday that parents, teachers, healthcare providers and community members must have meaningful conversations with children and young adults about the dangers of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes can serve as a gateway to other tobacco use, he noted, and advertisements featuring celebrity endorsements and cartoons have the potential to once again normalize tobacco use in popular culture.
Users of e-cigarettes are not the only ones in harm’s way.
According to the report, simply inhaling secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes can be dangerous because it contains potentially harmful chemicals.
The Surgeon General stressed the importance of rigorously regulating such products at the federal level. Specifically, the report recommends:
- Raising and enforcing minimum age-of-sale laws for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,
- Including e-cigarettes in smoke-free policies,
- Monitoring e-cigarette marketing,
- Conducting media campaigns to educate the public about the harms of e-cigarettes among young people, and
- Widening research efforts related to e-cigarettes.
American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said the report is a “stamp of validation” on the association’s position on tobacco and e-cigarette use.
Brown called on the incoming presidential administration to leave in place the new rules that this year extended the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory authority to e-cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, pipe tobacco and hookah tobacco. She also urged the new administration to expand the federal smoke-free public housing rule announced last week to include e-cigarettes.