Surgeon General Jerome Adams officially declared e-cigarettes an epidemic in the US.
He said nicotine use while young can increase a person's chances of developing a mental health condition or a cognitive issue like Alzheimer's later in life. "Nicotine exposure during adolescence can harm the developing brain which continues to develop until about age 25". Health professionals should ask about e-cigarettes when screening patients for tobacco use, the advisory said.
"We need to protect our kids from all tobacco products, including all shapes and sizes of e-cigarettes", Adams said in a news release.
The advisory, just the second Adams has issued since taking the job 16 months ago, comes the day after a report concluded 21% of high school seniors vaped nicotine this year, versus just 11% last year. According to the latest federal data, the percentage of high school age children reporting e-cigarette use in the past 30 days rose 75 percent from previous year. That effect poses special risks for young people, Adams says. Since then, studies have shown a sharp uptick among young people using the devices and companies that sell the liquid nicotine in flavors that appeal to teens. "Combustible cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and providing an effective off-ramp for adults who want to quit using them is a public health priority. They don't realize the nicotine can interfere with their brain development, that the sweet flavors don't make the products any less risky", Ryan said.
E-cigarette use has skyrocketed among the middle and high school set. The FDA has tried to enlist the cooperation of e-cigarette companies, but has threatened an outright ban if the efforts don't work.
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From 2016 to 2017, sales of Juul e-cigarettes shot up by 641 percent. A single Juul cartridge contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 tobacco cigarettes.
The devices, which are often thought of as safer alternative to cigarettes, are not harmless, the advisory noted.
He said: "We do know that these newer products, such as Juul, can promote dependence in just a few uses".
"JUUL Labs shares a common goal with the Surgeon General and other federal health regulators - preventing youth from initiating on nicotine", according to a statement from Victoria Davis, a Juul spokesperson. That voluntary action came days before the Food and Drug Administration proposed industry-wide restrictions on online and convenience store sales of e-cigarettes to deter use by kids.
This story contains material from the Associated Press.