They look like cigarettes but don’t have the toxic smoke and smell of real cigarettes. They are battery powered electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine that is vaporized when inhaled.  E-cigarette manufacturers say these products are safer than traditional cigarettes because they don’t contain cancer-causing chemicals. They include varying amounts of nicotine and some may not contain any nicotine at all. The ones that do have nicotine are just as addictive as regular cigarettes.

First touted as a way for cigarette smokers to quit the habit without having to go cold turkey, e-cigarettes are simply replacing traditional cigarette use when someone wants to smoke where smoking is not allowed.

Adults aren’t the only ones using electronic cigarettes; they are becoming extremely attractive to middle school and high school students as well. .

According to the latest data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of middle school and high school students who have tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012. There was a similar doubling of current e-cigarette smokers, defined as having smoked an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, from 1.1% to 2.1%.

That translates into about 1.78 million student smokers. The data also shows that e-cigarettes aren’t the first introduction to cigarettes for many of these kids, but are used in addition to regular cigarettes. 76.3% of teens said they also smoke regular cigarettes.  “The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling,” he said. “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug.  Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”

Kids who have not smoked before are being introduced to the addictive qualities of nicotine through electronic cigarettes. As the study shows, it’s really only a matter of time before they start switching back and forth.

The battery operated nicotine product is designed to look like regular cigarettes and even cigars and pipes. Are they actually safer than these traditional products? No one knows for sure. They are a relatively new product without years of studies to see the long-term effects of inhaling the vapors. Some studies have found that within minutes of inhalation breathing becomes more difficult. Other studies say they are a good way to help smokers quit.

Either way, nicotine is extremely addictive and a terribly hard habit to break. It’s much better to never start.

Adding to the draw to teenagers are clever marketing techniques as well as celebrity endorsements from folks like Jenny McCarthy, Stephen Dorff and Courtney Love. And of course, they come in flavors like chocolate and cherry crush.  Who wouldn’t like that?

These aren’t harmless gadgets and you can add them to the list of dangerous drugs to talk to your kids about. When you have the “don’t smoke” conversations – make sure and discuss this “alternative.” It’s not really an alternative to smoking – it’s just a newer way to get our kids addicted to nicotine.

The FDA is currently looking into the possibility of regulating e-cigarettes.  For now, only e-cigarettes that are prescribed for treating smoking are regulated by the FDA, other uses are not. But, based on the results, the agency reiterated its plans to extend its tobacco control jurisdiction to cover these products as well as the cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco that it already regulates.

Talk to any smoker who now wants to quit the habit and they’ll tell you never start – e-cigarette or regular cigarette – it’s all the same.  Kids may think that these products are chic or harmless – let them know that is just not the case.

Sources: Alexandra Sifferlin,

Wendy Koch,