With candy and fruit flavors that include chocolate, cotton candy, banana and root beer float, and the misguided belief that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to traditional tobacco products, I suppose it’s no surprise that more teenagers are using them these days.

The use of e-cigarettes – also called vaping – has increased almost 80 percent among high school students and 50 percent among middle school students since last year, CNNrecently reported.

This news prompted U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottleib to propose new restrictions for flavored nicotine products that have contributed to the increase in popularity among youth.

“The data show that kids using e-cigarettes are going to be more likely to try combustible cigarettes later,” Gottlieb said in a statement. “The data make unmistakably clear that, if we’re to break the cycle of addiction to nicotine, preventing youth initiation on nicotine is a paramount imperative.”

Most e-cigarettes, including the fruit- and candy-flavored varieties, contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why are e-cigarettes bad for oral health?

Those tutti frutti and apple pie vaping liquids aren’t causing orthodontists and dentists to be concerned that their young patients are more susceptible to tooth decay. The worries are much more serious. Studies have shown vaping can damage gum tissue and increase cancer risk.

In August, researchers presented their alarming findings regarding vaping at an American Chemical Societynational meeting. They shared that vaping has the potential “to modify the genetic material, or DNA, in the oral cells of users, which could increase their cancer risk, according to a press release.

The researchers confirmed that more substances that are capable of causing cancerarise in conventional tobacco products that are smoked than from the vapor created by e-cigarettes, but that by no means is a sign that vaping is safer than conventional smoking methods.

“We don’t really know the impact of inhaling the combination of compounds produced by this device,” said Silvia Balbo, the project’s lead investigator. “Just because the threats are different doesn’t mean that e-cigarettes are completely safe.”

E-cigarettes pose oral health risks for the same reason as conventional cigarettes: Nicotine. Nicotine reduces blood flow, which prevents the gums from receiving oxygen and nutrients at proper levels to remain healthy. Over time, nicotine use causes gum tissue to die, which leads to gum recession and periodontal disease.

Nicotine also prevents your mouth from producing saliva. Saliva is important to oral health because it helps wash away food particles and bacteria. Reduced saliva production leads to increased bacteria levels in the mouth, dry mouth and tooth decay.

Nicotine is a stimulant that fires up the muscles. If you are someone who grinds your teeth, nicotine can cause you to grind and clench your teeth more frequently.

Delta Dentalalso reported that short-term data shows vaping impacts lung health, damages blood cells, increases heart disease risks, and negatively impacts the immune system.

Is nicotine more dangerous for children than adults?

Nicotine definitely can adversely affect the development of the adolescent brain, the CDC reported. Brain development continues until about age 25. Adolescents who use nicotine can harm the parts of their brains that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.

Synapses, which are strong connections between brain cells, are formed each time a child creates a new memory or learns a new skill. The brains of children and adolescents build synapses faster than adult brains, but nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed.

E-cigarette myths

Perhaps you have heard that e-cigarettes have some redeeming qualities. Here are three common e-cigarette myths:

  • E-cigarettes contain harmless water vapor. This is false. Although it contains fewer toxicants than conventional cigarettes, cigars and pipes, they still contain nicotine and other carbonyl compounds and volatile organic compounds, which are known to have adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s reporttitled, “E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults.”
  • E-cigarettes are beneficial because they help smokers quit. The Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence that e-cigarettes are safe and effective in helping smokers quit, according to the American Lung Association. One study has found that e-cigarettes were associated with a higher risk of continuing to smoke.
  • E-cigarettes are safe for smoking indoors because the secondhand smoke isn’t harmful. The Surgeon General has reported that secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes contain nicotine; flavoring chemicals that have been linked to serious lung disease; benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals including nickel, tin and lead, according to the American Lung Association.

Are e-cigarettes being marketed to children?

Yes, according to Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy organization working to reduce tobacco use and its deadly consequences in the United States and around the world.

“E-cigarette marketing employs many of the same strategies used for years by cigarette manufacturers that proved so effective in reaching kids, such as celebrity endorsements, slick TV and magazine advertisements, and sports and music sponsorships,” according to a white paperproduced by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The Surgeon General also has noted the marketing tactics used by e-cigarette makers. A 2016 report concluded that e-cigarettes today are marketed in much the same way tobacco products were marketed to teens and young adults in the past.

E-cigarette companies started advertising their products via TV commercials in 2012. Astudy published in the journal Pediatrics in June 2014 found that children between ages 12 and 17 experienced a 256 percent increase in exposure to e-cigarette advertisements between 2011 and 2013.

How can I keep my children from using e-cigarettes?

This is an important question. The Surgeon General’s website offers lots of information on this topic. Helpful tips include:

  • Speak with your children about the dangers and health risks associated with e-cigarettes. Educate them on the fact that e-cigarettes still contain nicotine, so they aren’t a “healthier” form of smoking.
  • Prevent the adults in your life from using tobacco products and e-cigarettes around your children. Kids watch adults’ behavior and often emulate it, good or bad.
  • Steer clear of restaurants and venues that allow tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
  • Be a good role model by being tobacco-free.

For more information on taking action to keep your children away from e-cigarettes, visit the Surgeon General’s website.

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