News / Health

    Report: E-cigarettes Can Cause Permanent Brain Damage for Teens

    Doctors Alarmed About Electronic Cigarette Use Among Teenagersi
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    Carol Pearson
    May 01, 2015 12:16 PM
    The increasing availability of electronic cigarettes has outpaced scientists' ability to find out if they are safe. They can contain nicotine, and their growing popularity with teenagers has doctors and health officials alarmed. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Doctors Alarmed About Electronic Cigarette Use Among Teenagers
    Carol Pearson

    Electronic cigarettes are banned in some countries, highly available in others, but with internet sales, they are available just about anywhere, and just about anyone can buy them, including adolescents. The popularity of these products has outpaced scientists' ability to determine if they are safe. But since electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine, doctors already know a lot about nicotine and its effect on teenagers.

    Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, compared teens' experimenting with any nicotine product, including electronic cigarettes, to "playing Russian roulette with the brain."

    Winickoff works with the American Academy of Pediatrics to protect children from tobacco and secondhand smoke.

    "Essentially, this drug creates a biologic need that can be permanent,” he told VOA. He said the effects include decreased working memory, tension problems as adults, and increased rates of depression and anxiety.

    Yet teens and young adults are attracted to electronic cigarettes. In the U.S., where they are not yet regulated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says use more than doubled among teens, including young teens, between 2011 and 2012. That's got public health officials and pediatricians like Dr. Winickoff alarmed.

    Enticing ads and Online sales

    The report did not surprise Jennifer Duke, a senior public health specialist with RTI International, a research firm based in North Carolina. 

    "Television advertising for e-cigarettes has increased two-fold for youth and three-fold for young adults in the U.S. in the past two years," she said. Duke added that the ads appeal to teens. One ad for Blu Electronic Cigarettes describes them as "sleek, hot and blue" without the smell of tobacco, which it described as a turnoff for those looking to attract a date.

    This ad didn't say the product is safe, but Duke is also concerned about the lack of health information on electronic cigarettes. She says teenagers are taking their cues from ads.

    "Currently it’s the only source of information that most consumers have about e-cigarettes, and they’re portraying them as safe and healthy alternatives. They’re fun and they're glamorized in these advertisements as modern and a fun adult activity. So I don’t think it’s surprising that youth also find these products appealing," said Duke.

    Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, are battery powered devices that can look like a cigarette or like a tube. They usually have a removable tank that can be filled with a flavored, nicotine-containing liquid. A report in Tobacco Control, an international professional journal published by BMJ, lists the main ingredients as nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine/glycerol, flavoring and water, although it points out the levels of nicotine can vary widely or may not be present at all. 

    Teens buy the products online, as do many adults. The Tobacco Control study said there is no hard data about internet sales, but up to 50 percent of purchases may take place on-line. But since the internet is where teens interact with each other, they report about their experiences with e-cigarettes on social media and post videos about it. One youth likened the nicotine to caffeine.

    A young woman reported that she ordered her e-cigarette through the internet and that her experience was "fantastic."

    First step toward addiction?

    Duke said there was "no definitive proof that the use of e-cigarettes will lead to the use of tobacco products," a statement shared in the Tobacco Control report. But Winickoff said his studies and experiences have led him to a different conclusion. "It also sets up the adolescent brain for more durable and stronger addiction pathways," he said, "not just for nicotine, but for other substances such as cocaine, marijuana and other drugs."

    Winickoff said the teen brain becomes dependent on nicotine much more rapidly than the adult brain. "The most susceptible youth will lose autonomy over tobacco use after just a few times. So before they even know they’re addicted, they’ll first start wanting, then craving nicotine whenever they go too long between uses," he said, "And more exposure to nicotine at an early age will up-regulate nicotine receptors more rapidly in those developing centers of the brain than in adults. More receptors mean more craving."

    The fact that these products come in fruity flavors as well as flavors with names such as "birthday cake," and "cherry crush," makes them more appealing to teens.

    The Tobacco Control report said that sales to minors should be banned. Some owners of electronic cigarette stores agree.

    Brett Rice co-owns a Vaporfi franchise in Washington. He said, "We sell no products to anyone under 18 years old. That is our company policy, period." Rice said most of his customers come in looking for an alternative to smoking cigarettes and the most popular flavors are tobacco and menthol, flavors he said are preferred by cigarette smokers. 

    The report published by Tobacco Control also says that local clean indoor air policies that ban cigarette smoking should be applied to e-cigarettes as well. The report explains that regulating e-cigs will help protect consumers from substandard products and reduce the chance children will be put at risk.

    But Duke, and other health specialists, are concerned that those policies may be too late -- that e-cigarettes have introduced a new generation of teenagers to nicotine addiction.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 3
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    by: joften from: ohio
    May 12, 2015 10:50 AM
    so after reading this ...kids(by the way) that are not allowed by any state law and the shops that sell to the general public unless there of consensual age are going to become addicts of vaping? I'm pretty sure the glamorization or the couple of ads i have seen in media today haven't pushed anyone into over doing vaping.But i still see drinking in excess on more shows than i can count and yet there is no restrictions that slow that down.

    by: Kevin M from: Brampton
    May 05, 2015 12:58 PM
    Enjoyment causes Public Health "experts", and there is no known cure for the infestation.

    by: Kevin m from: Brampton
    May 05, 2015 9:56 AM
    Up-regulation does not increase the number of receptors in the body and there is no such thing as a nicotine receptor. The clown is talking with the seat of his pants up to the microphone. Up and Down regulation refers only to the sensitivity of the receptors. Common street drugs which the propaganda crowd is trying very hard to associate with people who smoke, make receptors damaged by over dose gradually less sensitive, requiring increased dosages in order to get high.

    If up and down regulation is an indicator of addiction the "experts have never explained the lack of consistency, in regards to nicotine. That would allow someone to remain comfortable, while maintaining a consistent dosage of a pack a day for decades, with no need to increase that dosage. It's all they know, because it was how they were educated. Take away the ashtrays, then bitch about the number of butts they find on the ground. This is more about cashing in on the profits of hatred, than it was ever about science or ethical oversight.

    If e-cigarettes are so worrisome, explanation of the lack of concerns, in connection with inhalers, patches and fruit flavored nicotine gum, would seem entirely appropriate. The only gum recommended and sanctioned, for chewing the classroom? Strange how many of these so called experts, would recommend niacin, being added sanctimoniously, to your daily bread?

    by: Elaine Keller from: United States
    May 05, 2015 12:01 AM
    First, let's differentiate between "ever users" and "regular users." The first group includes all of the second group plus any youth who ever tried a puff from an e-cigarette, even if just once, at any time in the past. Of the regular users, what percent were smokers or used other tobacco products before taking up the e-cigarette? Of the regular users who never used any tobacco product before, what percent are using nicotine in their e-cigarette? The answers to these questions are "most" and "hardly any." When you couple those facts with the fact that teen smoking rates have reached their lowest rates ever, there is no factual support for the belief that e-cigarettes have introduced a new generation of teenagers to nicotine addiction.

    I will bet that the Tobacco Control report fails to reveal that implementing the regulations as proposed by the FDA will eliminate all of the small and medium size independent businesses that market e-cigarettes. Only the tobacco companies will be able to afford to comply with the draconian regulations. Is that what Tobacco Control really wants? For tobacco companies to monopolize the e-cigarette market? Why?

    by: James Gonzalez from: Westfield, MA
    May 04, 2015 9:00 PM
    Individuals that make up the Voice of America consist of Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Big Oligarchs. Is Carol Pearson and actual journalist? Or just a wannabe shill who's desperately looking for a break-out piece to push her into the stratosphere? Because from where I'm sitting, there are bags of rocks that have a better chance...Carol Pearson, can you write for yourself? Are you capable of putting together a collective thought that would make your writing, at least minimally interesting instead of making yourself look totally invalid...

    by: Raven from: USA
    May 04, 2015 6:13 PM
    I know from my experience that I can breathe so much better since vaping. I don't have to do nebulizers and inhalers several times a day. In fact I only use my inhaler rarely. I save money and they taste so much better. #vaporisntsmoke

    by: mike schoonover from: United States
    May 04, 2015 2:55 PM
    the FDA has approved over the counter nicotine patches and gum as completely safe for lifetime use to any healthy individual 12 and over. i a sure the FDA would have noticed something like brain damage.

    by: Russell Moore from: Oklahoma
    May 04, 2015 11:22 AM
    Where might i find Dr. Winickoff's studies? Have they been peer reviewed, or are these in a sense, opinions only? I find most all of his statements go against the peer reviewed studies of vaping, as well as the stories propogation of numbers that cannot be quantified. There are real experts studying these devices for safety and efficacy. These devices are the first positive thing to come out in over 50 years that show a strong harm reduction to smoking. Those in the industry do not claim vaping to be "safe", they do however promote it as safer than, or as harm reduction, but almost anything beats smoking, or the perscription methods to quit smoking.

    by: BS Detector from: United States
    May 04, 2015 11:17 AM
    WOW ... Just WOW I thought this was "Voice of America" not "Voice of Big Tobacco" or "Voice of Big Pharma" .. .SMDH

    by: Carlos Troncoso Phillips from: Chile
    May 03, 2015 9:16 PM
    First, he's a pediatrician. Not a toxicologist, and cannot be considered a reliable source.
    Doctors (medics most of them) are just that. They have some general knowledge about diseases and biology, but in how chemistry affect the body, a medic is not the source to go to. Is as far away as a house painter is from an artist painter.

    For serious facts, please use studies done by microbiologists, immunologists or toxicologists.
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