Health officials warn that they do not know the damage that vaping can cause.

PANAMA CITY – While the teenage smoking rate has dropped to the lowest level ever, e-cigarettes consumption in the same age group has moved upwards in a trend that is worrying health officials.

According to a Centers for Disease Control report, 4.2 percent of Florida high school students admitted smoking cigarettes in 2017, while 15.7 percent said they currently use e-cigarettes or vaporizers.

"We are delighted that the number of cigarette smokers has dropped, but we are very concerned about the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers," said Heather Kretzer, spokesperson for the Bay County Health Department.

The use of e-cigarettes and vaporizers has risen sharply in recent years, so that scientific studies can not compete. Kretzer said health authorities are not even sure what's in the e-cigarette fluid, and even if the listed ingredients are labeled as "food grade," that does not mean they can safely inhale.

"There is still much research," said Kretzer. "We do not know many things, we know the nicotine content is higher, what we know is something, and what we do not know is much more."

Because of this uncertainty, Bonnie Steelman, who has led the local student working against tobacco chapter for more than a decade, said her SWAT group has launched a student initiative "Not Your Lab Rats" to raise awareness among high school students about the health Risks of e-cigarettes and vaporizers. It came after the "Not a Replacement" campaign of several years ago that encouraged adolescents to refuse to be "replacements" for older smokers who died of tobacco products. Now they encourage students to get up and refuse to be tobacco industry test takers.

The companies convert their marketing through cartoons and candy cartridges to the target group teens. For Kretzer and Steelman, there is a sense of deja-vu that they have had to fight the fight against cigarettes for decades against their high-tech colleagues.

"Every company has a life cycle and a revolution," said Kretzer. "Look at the soda companies. Now they sell water. "

"From the beginning, this was advertised as a hiring," said Steelman. "That's what they said about cigarettes back then, they had doctors on TV who said they only smoked camels because it was good for your throat."

This first marketing as a smoking cessation aid has shaken the employees of the health department quite. They even said they even talked to parents who bought e-cigarettes or vaporizers for their teen because they thought it was safer than traditional cigarettes. Kretzer and Steelman said they are not supported by studies.

Especially for teenagers, e-cigarettes and vaporizers are attractive. They are trendy, come in flavors like sour gums and skittles, unlike cigarettes that leave a strong smell, they're easier to hide, and some, like the Juul, are shaped like USB sticks that can fly under the radar from most adults.

With smart phone apps, social media, and games designed to return, her brain is prepared for addictive behavior.

"We do not know what damage it can do," said Steelman.


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