Nation’s Top Doctor Sounds Alarm On Teen Use Of E-Cigarettes

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(CBS) — The nation’s top doctor is sounding an alarm on e-cigarettes.

Seventeen year old Tyra Nicolay started using e-cigarettes three years ago as a high school freshman.

“I thought they were just water vapor, and a majority of my friends thought the same thing,” Nicolay said.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said then when he traveled the country, he “realized that many people are confused about e-cigarettes.”

“They don’t recognize that these aren’t harmless products,” he said.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine but not the cancer-causing tar present in traditional cigarettes. Nicotine is a highly-addictive drug, and a Thursday report warns it may harm the developing adolescent brain.

“The bottom line is that there is no safe use of tobacco products for kids, and those include e-cigarettes,” Murthy said.

E-cigarette companies have rapidly increased advertising spending, from $6.4 million in 2011 to $115 million in 2014. Regular e-cigarette use among high school students increased from less than 2 percent in 2011 to 16 percent last year.

“What we’ve seen is the vast majority of kids — 7 out of 10 — are actually seeing these advertisements,” Murthy said.

“Whether that’s intentional or unintentional that tells us that we’re not doing a good enough job at protecting kids,” he added.

CBS News asked Murthy is he thinks bubble gum flavor for cigarettes is unintentional, or if it’s targeted right to kids.

“We do know that flavors have a powerful impact on kids,” Murthy said. “In fact, 81 percent of kids when asked why they use e-cigarettes cite flavors.”

Murthy says more research is needed on whether e-cigarettes are a gateway to traditional cigarettes. Industry groups are criticizing Thursday’s report because it does not highlight the possible role e-cigarettes may have in helping people stop smoking.