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Teens turning to e-cigarettes for nicotine fix

By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- Middle and high school students across the United States are ditching traditional cigarettes in droves, but the CDC says teens are picking up other habits instead.

Marco, a 10th grader in east El Paso, said he's been smoking with his friends for the past two years.

"I just guessed like everyone is trying it, so why not I try it? It's around the school, you know, so it's hard not to get into it," said Marco.

But when Marco wants his nicotine fix, he prefers something other than traditional cigarettes.

"I usually try and smoke e-cigarettes, the ones that won't really do that much damage to your lungs," said Marco.

While electronic cigarettes are touted as a "healthier" alternative to cigarettes, doctors said that's not necessarily true.

"Most of these products are made in China, so we (don't know) what's being put into their chemicals, what's being used as preservatives," said Michael Jacobs, a nurse practitioner at Summit Urgent Care in East El Paso.

One thing Jacobs said he does know is some e-cigarettes contain ethylene glycol, which is a main ingredient in antifreeze.

"We don't know its total effects on lungs. We know that if you drink it, it does cause a percentage of people that drink antifreeze to die," said Jacobs.

Jacobs said teens who smoke e-cigarettes have an increased risk of developing asthma.

Even if someone buys a brand advertised as "nicotine free," Jacobs said don't trust it.

"Blu Cigarettes is one of the ones that were identified as having nicotine in their non-nicotine e-cigarettes," said Jacobs.

While people have to be 18 years old to buy traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means minors, like Marco, can buy them.

"You can't really taste the tobacco. Its, like, different, said Marco.

Among the few reasons why teens are attracted to e-cigarettes, doctors said they're flavored.

"Marketing a coconut flavored cigarette, marketing pina colada flavored tends to hit with those age groups," said Jacobs.

Jacobs said the FDA is working to regulate e-cigarettes. Teens responded by saying they will always find a way to get their hands on it.

For example, another increasingly popular product is mini-cigars. They are regulated by the FDA, so people must be 18 or over to buy them.

Jacobs said 40 percent of high school seniors in the Borderland have smoked mini-cigars.

According to the CDC, it's because mini-cigars are taxed differently, so they're cheaper than traditional cigarettes.

People can also buy mini-cigars one at a time, not just in packs.  They also come in flavors. 

Jacobs said smoking is a top health concern among teens and asks all parents to speak to their children about the risks associated with using nicotine and tobacco products.


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