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Federal and state health experts: Teen e-cigarette use skyrocketing

(Photo: MyNorthwest)

In the wake of federal officials labeling teen e-cigarette use a rising epidemic, local health experts said they are seeing comparable, disturbing increases in Washington state.

Miae Aramori, who is in charge of tobacco control for the Pierce County Health Department, said data from the statewide Healthy Use Survey reveals that teens appear to have traded one liability for another.

Over the past 10 years, she said, the study has shown that “there has been decrease in the use of tobacco products, but there is an increase in the e-cigarette and vaping device use.”

Administered every two years, the survey targets students in every school district in the state. The wide range of questions cover depression, bullying and physical activity in addition to queries about tobacco and e-cigarette use.

Decline in tobacco use matched by rise in vaping

Similar to their federal counterparts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, local health officials have noticed during the past six years, that a sharp decline in tobacco use among teens has been matched and sometimes exceeded by a parallel rise in vaping.

Statewide, teen e-cigarette use has risen 20 percent in four years, estimates show. Aramori thinks she knows the reason why.

“First, I think there is definitely an effort to at least appeal to a younger audience,” she said. “The (inhalers) they have developed are easy to hide. They are small, sleek and tech-savvy, designed to look like a USB drive or other types of products that a teenager would carry around, like a lipstick case,” she said.

“These are all things that parent might not even realize their children possess.”

RELATED: Raising the smoking age to 21 could save Washington money

But even more telling, Aramori and federal health experts noted, is the disconnect between the legal age of purchasing e-cigarettes – 18 years old — and the marketed flavors of the vaporized inhalants or “e-juice” used in the devices.

“When you have flavors like gummy bear or bubble gum or even the tropical fruit or tropical punch, these are the types of flavors we would find in candy products that are being sold and marketed at children,” she said.

“Finding those same flavors replicated in e-juices, really makes you question who are they targeting?”

The FDA only recently began regulating the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

On Sept. 12, the agency took the unusual step of calling out the manufacturers of e cigarettes by name – Juul, for example – and demanding that the companies and their retailers come up with a plan to curb teen use within 60 days.

The warning letter was sent to 7-Eleven stores, Walgreens, Circle K convenience shops and Shell gas stations, among others.

Aramori said something need to be done quickly. “This is a growing problem.”

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