POCATELLO — This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the percentage of teens using e-cigarettes tripled from 2013 to 2014.
In 2014, 2 million teens — 13 percent of high school students — used e-cigarettes, up from 4.5 percent in 2013. Among middle school students, e-cigarette use rose from 1 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014.
According to the CDC report, high school students use e-cigarettes and hookahs more than conventional tobacco cigarettes, but 9.2 percent of high school students still smoked cigarettes in 2014.
While e-cigarettes and vapes don’t contain tobacco or produce smoke, they usually contain addictive nicotine, and sales to minors is strictly prohibited.
But Brandon Fielder, an employee at Smoke This on North Main Street, said that doesn’t stop teens from trying to buy electronic cigarettes and vapes.
“I’ve seen an increase in the number of teens trying to buy juice and vapes here,” Fielder said. “But we ID everybody, and we don’t sell any vaping item, not even battery packs, to people under 18.”
As well as an increase in the number of minors trying to buy e-cigs, Fielder said he’s seeing more college students and non-smokers who are taking up vaping.
“I think it’s maybe a social experience,” Fielder said. “College students turn 21 and can go to the bars and everybody’s vaping or smoking.”
Fielder said nicotine-free e-juice is available but not to minors.
Ben Bosworth owns Outlaw Vapor on East Center Street and has also seen an increase in the number of teens using vapes and e-cigs, but if they’re underage, they don’t get them at his shop.
“We don’t sell anything to anyone under 18,” Bosworth said. “All vape shops need to be aware and diligent. We ID everyone who looks like they’re under 35.”
The CDC report states that nicotine can harm brain development in young people and can lead to addiction, and about 90 percent of smokers reported that they started smoking as teens.
Bosworth said most of his customers are smokers looking to quit, and ideally, they taper down the amount of nicotine they ingest.
“I was a three-pack-a-day smoker, and I started when I was 14,” Bosworth said. “I started (vaping) with juice that had 18 ml. Now I’m down to 3 ml.”
But health organizations report that nicotine can also be absorbed through the skin, and that can lead to toxicity or nicotine overdose. Parents who vape and buy replacement e-liquid nicotine need to aware of the danger liquid nicotine poses to their children who could get into bottles left out at home.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t do either, smoke or vape, but all the studies I’ve seen show that vaping is safer than smoking,” Bosworth said. “Cigarettes contain about 4,000 carcinogens.”
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told USA Today that the CDC report was “a welcome sign of progress against tobacco, which kills 480,000 Americans a year.”
But Myers said was concerned about kids using nicotine in any form.
“It represents a historic drop in cigarette use — the first time in history that we’ve seen cigarette use in high school youth below 10 percent,” Myers said. “At the same time, the explosive rise in e-cigarette use is a wake-up call.”
Phil Daman, president the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, told USA Today that the growing number of teens using e-cigarettes is a concern.
“We want to make sure that youth don’t have access to these products,” Daman said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money lobbying in almost every state to ban sales to minors.”
At least 42 states ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but teens can still shop online.