Health experts are now pushing to raise the minimum age for purchasing e-cigarettes and tobacco to 21 years old as teenagers' addiction to nicotine is continuously becoming a widespread health problem in the United States.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to tighten regulations regarding e-cigarettes in the same way that tobacco is regulated in the country.

In a study published [pdf] in the journal Pediatrics, the AAP presented extensive policies and recommendations such as clinical guidelines on reducing tobacco dependence and exposure, regulation of e-cigarettes and changes in public health policy.

The AAP also suggests that the scope of regulations should include bans on advertising flavored products that attract the youth, taxes on e-cigarettes, and smoke-free laws that ban secondhand smoke also be applied to e-cigarettes. The use of tobacco and e-cigarettes should be prohibited in workplaces, restaurants, health care facilities, parks, schools, entertainment venues and bars, the study said.

"Tobacco use continues to be a major health threat to children, adolescents and adults," said Dr. Karen M. Wilson, chair of the AAP Section on Tobacco Control. She explained that because the developing brains of teens are vulnerable to nicotine, the popularity of e-cigarettes is dangerous to their long-term health.

Researchers said parents should not use e-cigarettes in front of their children because exposure to and ingestion of nicotine can be lethal to young children. Aside from nicotine, the smoke from e-cigarettes also contains carcinogens.

Companies should also develop child-resistant packaging to prevent curious children from experimenting, the study said.

The study, which is called "Public Policy to Protect Children From Tobacco, Nicotine, and Tobacco Smoke," explained that dependence to tobacco and e-cigarettes almost starts during adolescence, at the period where anything that belongs to uncharted territory excites adolescents.

Meanwhile, little is known on the efficacy of e-cigarettes in treating tobacco dependency.

Dr. Claire McCarthy from Boston Children's Hospital said that more research should be done in order to prove whether the use of e-cigarettes is helpful in kicking people's smoking habits, and how the use of e-cigarettes affects the youth.

The FDA currently does not have any policy regarding the regulation of e-cigarettes. Researchers say that pediatricians should start counseling families about the harmful effects of smoking, especially the effects of secondhand smoke to children.

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