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Surgeon General calls youth vaping a public health threat

E-cigarette use among young people is a major health concern, according to a new report from the U.S. Surgeon General on Thursday.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in the report that not enough research has been conducted to prove that use of e-cigarettes among youth are harmless.

“E-cigarettes went from being rare in 2010 to being the most common tobacco product used by our nation’s youth,” Murthy said during a press conference. “This represents a staggering development in a relatively short period of time, and it threatens 50 years of hard-fought progress we have made curbing tobacco use and puts a new generation at risk for … addiction.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use among high school students rose from 1.5% in 2011 to 16% in 2015. Federal health officials estimate that about 3 million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes.

The potential safety of e-cigarettes, devices that heat a liquid consisting of nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals to create a vapor, is hotly debated. Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not contain tar or other chemicals generated by the combustion of tobacco that are responsible for harmful tobacco-related diseases. Proponents of e-cigarettes say they are a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and can help people quit smoking.

Nicotine is harmful to the developing brain regardless of whether it’s smoked through a traditional cigarette or an e-cigarette, Benard Dreyer, President of American Academy of Pediatrics, said during the press conference.

“Nicotine… regardless of its source is highly addictive and has clear neurotoxic effects especially on the developing brains of adolescent and even into early adulthood,” Dryer said.

For years, e-cigarettes have been largely unregulated, with many consumers unaware of what chemicals are used in their e-cigarette products. In May, the Food and Drug Administration released a rule that requires electronic cigarettes to be regulated much like tobacco cigarettes. The rule requires nearly every e-cigarette on the market — and every different flavor and nicotine level — to submit a separate application for federal approval.

While many may believe that e-cigarettes emit a harmless aerosol, that’s not the case, Dreyer said.

“Aerosol from e-cigarettes is not harmless, it includes nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals including heavy metals and carcinogens,” Dreyer said, adding that second-hand inhalation should also be avoided. “Because there is no safe level of exposure, it is extremely important to protect children from these.”

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