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Rise in e-cigarettes sparks concern for teens picking up the habit

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E-cigarettes continue to rise in popularity, causing concern about the impact the products have on teens and smoking. In a new policy statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), the dramatic rise in e-cigarettes threatens to reverse the progress made to prevent smoking. While health experts worry about the negative health effects the products have on teens, they say smokers are okay to use them to quit.

"E-Cigarettes have caused a major shift in the tobacco-control landscape," Aruni Bhatnagar, the lead author of the statement and chair of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Louisville writes.

Compared to traditional cigarettes, e-cigs contain less toxic chemicals but still contains highly addictive nicotine. The battery-operated devices vaporize nicotine. Different flavor cartridges are sold for E-cigarettes and some brands feature colorful and bejeweled designs that can catch the attention of teenagers.

AHA expresses "concerns that these products may be another entry point for nicotine addiction among young people." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of teens that smoked an e-cigarette but have never smoked a traditional cigarette tripled from 79,000 in 2011 to 263,000 in 2013.

"We are very concerned about nicotine use among our youth, regardless of whether it comes from conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products," says director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, Tim McAfee. "Not only is nicotine highly addictive, it can harm adolescent brain development."

AHA is not one hundred percent against the use of e-cigarettes when used as a stop-smoking aid. There are studies that suggest electronic cigs are equal to or even better than nicotine patches. When other forms of smoking cession aids have failed, doctors should not discourage e-cigarettes but allow patients to use e-cigarettes to help them quit.

The Cancer Society also found that the electronic tobacco products "may be a reasonable option" for those who can't flick away the habit.

Health experts still believe that e-cigarettes are currently unregulated and should be controlled the same way the traditional kinds are. The AHA's policy statement also proposes banning the selling of the products to minors.

The AHA "calls for strong new regulations to prevent access, sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to youth, and for more research into the product's health impact."

E-cigarettes have been on the U.S. market since 2007, making approximately $2 billion in annual sales.

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