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Surgeon General calls e-cigarettes a public health threat, calls for national action

December 09, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 


Recognizing the growing threat that e-cigarettes pose to health and development across the human lifespan, the U.S. Surgeon General last week issued the first comprehensive federal government review of the public health impact of e-cigarettes on youth and young adults in the United States. The report, "E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults," also offers pragmatic recommendations to help protect the nation's youth from the harmful effects of e-cigarettes.

“We need parents, teachers, health care providers, and other influencers to help make it clear that e-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals and are not okay for kids to use,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D. “Today’s report gives them the facts about how these products can be harmful to young people’s health.”

Despite decades of policies and education about tobacco’s deadly toll, new products that appeal to young people and are falsely thought to be healthier have led to an uptick in those starting smoking and in continued use among established smokers.

The Surgeon General's report found that in 2015 about one in six high school students used an e-cigarette, an alarming statistic that underscores the need to educate parents and children about the risks of use and exposure to e-cigarettes. The report also found that e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth and are strongly associated with the use of other tobacco products among youth and young adults.

The report issues a call to action to prevent e-cigarette use and related harms among America’s young people. Those recommended actions include:

  • Continuing to regulate e-cigarettes at the federal level to protect public health
  • Raising and strongly enforcing minimum age-of-sale laws for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes
  • Incorporating e-cigarettes into smoke-free policies
  • Regulating e-cigarette marketing
  • Sponsoring high-impact media campaigns to educate the public on the harms of e-cigarettes among young people
  • Expanding research efforts related to e-cigarettes

California has been on the front lines in the effort to curb the use of e-cigarettes, a growing arm of Big Tobacco, which has falsely marketed the products as safe for consumers.

Just last month, the California Medical Association (CMA)-backed Proposition 56 was overwhelmingly passed by voters, which will raise the tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigarette liquids. The California legislature in 2016 also passed a historic package of bills that would classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products and ban their use in public. The bills additionally raised California’s smoking age to 21, closed loopholes in the state’s smoke-free workplace laws, required all schools to be tobacco-free and updated the state’s tobacco licensing fee program.

In May, CMA's Council on Science and Public Health published a white paper that looked at the growing public health threat of flavored tobacco products, like e-cigarettes. The paper, “Flavored and Mentholated Tobacco Products: Enticing a New Generation of Users,” called out Big Tobacco's predatory marketing practice of using sweet-flavored products to hook a new generation of smokers.

According to CMA's white paper, there are now over 460 brands of e-cigarettes and more than 7,700 unique e-cigarette flavors available for purchase online, including a wide range of child-friendly candy and fruit-flavors that are not permitted in cigarettes, such as Wrigley’s, Atomic Fireball, Tutti Frutti and Cap’n Crunch.

Click here to read the Surgeon General’s report. In conjunction with the report, the Surgeon General also launched a new interactive website containing key information from the report, written especially for parents and adult influencers of youth, available at http://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov.

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