A recent national study from the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found nearly 1.8 million middle and high school students had used electronic cigarettes in 2012. That figure is double that of the previous year. The CDC based its findings on a questionnaire from thousands of students from grades 6 through 12.

Health and public officials are concerned the data suggests electronic cigarettes may be a gateway drug to smoking, that kids may be getting hooked on nicotine through electronic cigarettes then transition to smoking conventional tobacco cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes emit no smoke, but heat liquid nicotine and flavours into a vapour. While electronic cigarettes may look like the real thing, they’re not subject to U.S tobacco laws. The electronic cigarette industry is largely unregulated.

Recently, around 40 state Attorney-Generals urged the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the electronic cigarette industry the same way it regulates the tobacco industry and restrict use by minors.

The Ohio House is also considering a bill, House Bill 144 that would prevent minors from using or buying alternative tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes.

Part of the public concern comes from the way electronic cigarettes are marketed.  It’s been decades since cigarette commercials were on television, but now flashy electronic cigarette news and ads are on the Internet, and are advertised during late night television broadcasts. Some of the ads feature cartoon characters and celebrity endorsements.

Also of concern are the flavours of some electronic cigarettes.  While you can find traditional tobacco, you can also get electronic cigarettes with flavours that include cherry, bubble gum and blackcurrant. Critics claim that those flavours are especially appealing to children, since it would be rare to find adults who were interested in bubble gum cigarettes. This would seem to be a deliberate attempt to market electronic cigarettes to minors.

The Food and Drug Administration is soon expected to formally release its proposed regulations for electronic cigarettes.

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