Many teens don’t consider these devices to be e-cigarettes. Furthermore, a recent study showed that 63% of young users of a product called JUUL didn’t know it contains nicotine, said Dr. Camenga, a general pediatrician who also runs a youth addiction clinic.
These factors are concerning because e-cigarette use is one of the leading public health issues affecting teens today.
To identify patients using these products, Dr. Camenga suggested asking: “Do you use e-cigarettes, vape pens or JUUL?”
Since 2015, e-cigarettes have become the most popular tobacco product used by U.S. teens, surpassing cigarettes. Most alarmingly, she said, preliminary federal data suggest rates of use increased 75% from 2017 to 2018.
“If confirmed, this would translate from 11.7% last year to an alarming 20% in one year. What this would translate for us in our offices is that one in five of our teen patients potentially may be using e-cigarettes,” said Dr. Camenga, a member of the AAP Committee on Substance Use and Prevention.
E-cigarettes comprise many devices, come in different sizes and colors, and may be known as cig-a-likes, vape pens, personal vaporizers and pod systems. JUUL devices and others heat a “pod” of e-liquid containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances. Small and discreet, they can resemble everyday items like a USB drive.
The products may be advertised as e-juice or vape juice, and are available in more than 7,000 flavors, with fruit, dessert and sweet flavors especially appealing to young people, Dr. Camenga said.
E-cigarettes can provide a pleasurable experience for teens, in part because the adolescent brain is uniquely vulnerable to the rewarding effects of nicotine, she said. Another problem is that teens see and hear many positive messages about e-cigarettes in retail stores, online, on television and in newspapers or magazines.
“This can be very provocative and alluring for teens,” Dr. Camenga said. “When we speak about these products, we have to be honest and respectful of what they know … but also know they are interested in learning. Our job is to share the science.”
Pediatricians should explain that tobacco use by youths and young adults in any form is not safe; nicotine is common in e-cigarettes, can harm the developing brain and is addictive; and nicotine is associated with addiction to other drugs. In addition, scientists still are learning about long-term effects of ingredients in these products.
“We have an obligation to act on what we know,” Dr. Camenga said.