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CDC: E-Cigs Now Bigger Than Tobacco Among Teens

American teenagers now like e-cigarettes (e-cigs) more than traditional tobacco, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday.

The new figures will likely only intensify the raging debate over whether e-cigs are a good or bad development for the health of American youngsters.

Use of e-cigs among teenagers tripled in a single year from 2013 to 2014, according to the report, an annual poll called the National Youth Tobacco Survey. In 2013, 4.5 percent of high schoolers used e-cigs, but in 2014 that figure soared to 13.4 percent, a rise of about 1.4 million people. Usage also soared among middle schoolers, rising from less than 1 percent to about 4 percent. The numbers indicate that e-cigs are now the most popular nicotine products for young people in the country, surpassing cigarettes.

E-cigs, which heat packets of nicotine-laced liquid into a vapor that is then inhaled, have boomed in popularity in recent years, offering a cleaner and cheaper alternative to traditional smoking. E-cigs also attract many due to the belief they are healthier than smoking, although research has not proven this to be the case yet.

The rapid rise of e-cigs has concerned some public health activists, who believe the devices may draw young people into smoking or be unhealthy in their own right. Some, including members of Congress, have demanded increased regulation of e-cig advertising.

Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, released a statement saying the e-cig surge should be treated with alarm.

“We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar,” Frieden said. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”

Whether or not e-cigs are healthy for kids, the new CDC data suggests there is little evidence they provide a gateway to cigarette use. In face the CDC’s data suggests that e-cigs may be serving as an alternative to smoking, as their rise in popularity is matched with a continued drop in cigarette use among teenagers. Only about 9 percent of high schoolers used cigarettes in 2014, compared to 12 percent the year before. Cigarette usage among middle schoolers (already extremely low) saw a small decline as well.

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