Candy-Flavored E-Cigs Highly Appealing to Teenagers

By Bryan Le 02/19/14

Thanks to electronic cigarettes, some kids may never smoke a regular cigarette in their lives. But that's not necessarily a good thing.

Comes in all flavors. Shutterstock

Though nicotine vaporizer manufacturers have marketed their devices as "quit smoking" gadgets, their candy flavors are bringing in a different audience - teenagers. 

The good news, according to a survey by the Center for Disease Control, is that one out of five middle school students who vape say they they've never smoked a regular cigarette. But with good news comes bad news; scientists don't know much about the long-term effects of electronic cigarettes, since they've only been on the market since 2007. But they do know that "10 minutes of smoking an e-cigarette - for a person who has never smoked a cigarette - does cause a noticeable increase in airway resistance in the lungs," said Dr. Cathy McDonald, who runs a center for tobacco dependence in Alameda County, CA.

While there hasn't been time for such long-term studies, users and researchers have reached the early conclusion that vaping is most likely not as damaging to one's health as traditional smoking.  "It's probably better than smoke. And I say that because smoking a cigarette is 4,000 chemicals — 400 are poison, 40 cause cancer," said McDonald. Former smoker Gray Keuankaew echoed the sentiment with his firsthand experience: "Within the two months that I've been vaping, my body feels a little bit more healthy, so if [there's going to be] any type of positive benefit, then I'm definitely going to stick to it."

But the lack of conclusive info or FDA approval has yet to deter child smokers. Between 2011 and 2012, e-cigarettes have doubled in popularity among high school students, and even middle school kids are getting into the habit. "My favorite flavor is gummy bears because it tastes really good," said 8th grader Viviana Turincio. Unlike traditional smokes, electronic cigarettes lack federal restrictions and crafty underage buyers can go on eBay to dodge laws where states have passed regulations. And of course, they're a hit on social media, where #vapelife tags are everywhere. "I take pictures and do tricks, like blowing O's," said 8th grader Marleny Samayoa. "Blowing them on flat surfaces and making tornadoes."

For companies selling electronic cigarettes, the trend has been highly profitable. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates sales topping more than $2.5 billion this year. "Our target customer base is those people who felt doomed to a life of smoking," said Geoff Braithwaite, owner of Tasty Vapor. But Braithwaite knows that smokers trying to kick the habit aren't his only customers. "There's going to be that novelty around it - it's a brand new thing, it's an electronic device. That kind of stuff will always appeal to kids; it would have appealed to me."

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter