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Are E-cigarettes Cool to Kids?

Anti-smokers that would ban e-cigarettes to prevent children and teens from having access to them have a few things to learn from teens. They claim that e-cigarettes are marketed to children and teens and that the flavors are cartridges are designed to entice children. The anti-smokers arguments against the e-cigarette literally go up in smoke.

There are some anti-smoking groups that oppose e-cigarettes (known as personal vaporizers or PVs to those that actually use them.) This strikes me as inherently unintuitive since I, and many former smokers like me, enjoy PVs and have actually successfully reduced or altogether quit cigarette smoking.

One argument that I hear time and time again (and perhaps the strongest argument) against e-cigarettes is that they are marketed to children and teens, and the other is that the flavors offered are enticing to children and teens; therefore the logical conclusion is to ban the sale of a (so far) legal device to adults.

Since I use a PV and conveniently happen to have a teen of my own, I asked him to look at the e-cigarette packaging and a few websites that sell e-cigarettes and tell me how likely he’d be to purchase an e-cigarette in the future. Please note, the following response came from the same child that has had to own every conceivable pokemon game and Nintendo handheld game system from the time he was six years old, who still owns a considerable number of Magic and Yu Gi Oh cards, blogs consistently about Neopets, and has read every Harry Potter book at least four times. My point is that this is not a child impervious to marketing.

My son looked at me and said, “Those are about as cool as an asthma inhaler.”

I have watched my son and his friends carefully, looking for signs that they might be abusing asthma inhalers as a way to appear hip and ironic. Perhaps it’s because we live in a small town, yet I can’t help but note a distinct lack of asthma inhaler abuse among the teens. I think perhaps that those advocating e-cigarette bans might actually ask a conveniently located child or two if said child (or children) feel that the packaging is enticing the youth of America to abuse Primatine Mist.

On to the second part of the anti-vaping argument: that the available e-cigarette flavors are meant to entice children and teens to succumb to the evils of e-cigarettes and PVs. Again, I turned to my child for the answers. I asked him to review a few lists of the e-juice flavors available on a website, then I asked him which e-juice he felt he would most like to try.

Again, my son’s response seemed perfectly rational, and if I might say so myself awesome on so many levels.

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  1. I agree the product is probably not marketed towards teens but as a long time smoker who quit too late I think smoking is a dumb habit. I think vaping is dumb, too.

  2. Smoking is a bad habit and… whatever this e-cigarette is it’ll not help to quit smoking. Quit smoking is a little tough job than it seems. No wonder children might find this ‘toy’ interesting.

  3. Actually Sourav, I have quit smoking by using a PV (even though I didn’t mean to) and would like to ask you to further explain your comment.

    I believe I have made it clear that a PV/e-cig is not meant for smoking cessation, however that is the way it has worked for me and many other users.

  4. Good Post

  5. Excellent post, wendym! You touched on all of the points that show PVs aren’t marketed to or appeal to children.

    What a lot of these anti organizations fail to understand is why a great many children (adolescents) start smoking to begin with. They do it to be ‘cool’, to fit in with the ‘tough crowds’. I can only imagine what would have happened if I had tried to blend in with a crowd of smoking teens with my little metal battery that glowed at the end and emitted an odorless vapor. None of the scenarios I imagine end well for me or my PV. Children just aren’t going to gravitate towards these.

    And to Sourav, I agree that smoking is a bad habit. Unfortunately, many adults such as me picked up this bad habit in our youth — see above — and cannot stop for a myriad of reasons. These PVs are not smoking cessation devices. They offer an alternative to smoking without the thousands of chemical additives or the tar from burning tobacco leaves and paper. I switched to PVs and have not touched a regular cigarette in over 11 months. My health has improved considerably.

  6. I have been using this alternative since March 27, 2009. My wheezing is gone. So is the coughing up phlegm. That’s proof enough for me that they are less harmful than smoking. I wanted to mention that there is a transition that most users go through. At first, they all want the device to look and taste as much like a real cigarette as possible. After a while, they learn to use the product more efficiently, which means holding the vapor in the mouth for a few seconds before inhaling because the nicotine is absorbed in the mouth and upper airways. Then they get to noticing that the” tobacco” taste isn’t pleasant and wonder what one of the flavors would taste like. Once they find one that’s enjoyable (e.g. cappochino, mocha, english toffee), they begin to find the tobacco flavor distasteful. That’s also the point where, if they try a puff of a real cigarette, they discover they no longer enjoy the taste of tobacco cigarettes! Somewhere in there, they begin to realize that a device that looks less like a real cigarette is going to be less likely to get them accidentally thrown out of a public place for “smoking,” so they replace their device with one in some color other than white with orage LED.

  7. Well expressed opinion. 43 year smoker here, who started using a PV a year ago. I have been completely smoke free for nearly five months now and the health benefit amazing. The children argument has been well diffused here. The benefits to smokers of harm reduction products such as the E-cig and smokeless tobacco needs to be advocated if we are going to see an overall improvement of health in this country.

  8. Congratulations on an extremely thorough piece of research. You conducted a poll of 1 teenager, specifically your own child, using leading questions and the results came out exactly as you wanted them to. Good job!

  9. Sorry it took me so long to reply Chris, I’m sure you’re not around to read my response but perhaps it will prove helpful to others who also lack a sense of perspective and humor.

    I wrote a personal essay. If you want to point me in the direction of the nearest research grant (more specifically the grant money) then I’ll be more than happy to survey the heck out of every teen I meet over a longer period of time to get more scientific results, I’ll even put more effort into writing funnier jokes.

    Might I suggest you not post any comments on the internet unsupervised until you’ve stopped drinking and learned the difference between a research paper and an essay?

  10. The problem is some people may try e-cigarettes because it is considered safe. But they then become addicted to the nicotine (which is relatively harmless, but very addictive).

    Once addicted to nicotine the risk of smoking cigarettes is greatly increased – it may be harder to ignore peer pressure and turn one down when out with friends. If they forget their e-cigarette and are desperate for nicotine they may just head to the nearest tobacconist.

  11. Jon, when I first started smoking I was given cigarettes by friends, they were cheap (a little less than ten cents a piece, in fact you could buy a single cigarette for ten cents down at the corner market) and it was easy to try them, get hooked and start buying them for yourself because they were so cheap. I don’t know anyone that had tried an e-cigarette that wasn’t a smoker to begin with in the first place because they aren’t cheap at all. Should a non-smoker be really determined to try an e-cigarette despite the costs (and hassle) the odds are very much against them enjoying the experience of a real cigarette because real cigarettes are extremely nasty tasting and harsh by comparison. Also even the highest nicotine “juice” that is used in an e-cigarette is not absorbed as much as it would be if the nicotine were smoked, so the possibility of addition is VERY low from vaping alone– an addicted e-cigarette user would get far more satisfaction from sucking on a piece of candy or a pen barrel than a cigarette to deal with the psychological craving.

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