high school students vaping e-cigarettes gupta orig_00001716.jpg
high school students vaping e-cigarettes gupta orig_00001716.jpg
Now playing
02:34
Vaping an epidemic in US high schools
Now playing
01:27
See the first community of 3D-printed homes
Now playing
05:18
Anderson Cooper explains how he overcomes being shy
Burlington, MA Headquarters
Nuance
Burlington, MA Headquarters
Now playing
01:34
Microsoft to buy AI company Nuance
Now playing
02:50
Sleep doctor tells Anderson Cooper how long a power nap should be
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing about the quarterly CARES Act report on Capitol Hill December 1, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also testified at the hearing. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)
Susan Walsh/Pool/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell testifies during a Senate Banking Committee hearing about the quarterly CARES Act report on Capitol Hill December 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also testified at the hearing. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:06
Fed chief: The economy is about to grow more quickly
Christopher Hamilton
Now playing
01:01
Volcanologist shares what he prefers to cook on lava flows
"Saturday Night Live" / NBC
Now playing
01:47
'SNL' sees Minnesota news anchors take on the Derek Chauvin trial
Now playing
02:23
Pubs in England reopen after months of lockdown
DORAL, FLORIDA - AUGUST 27:  A Trump National Doral sign is seen at the golf resort owned by U.S. President Donald Trump's company on August 27, 2019 in Doral, Florida. President Trump said the United States may host the next G7 gathering at the golf resort. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
DORAL, FLORIDA - AUGUST 27: A Trump National Doral sign is seen at the golf resort owned by U.S. President Donald Trump's company on August 27, 2019 in Doral, Florida. President Trump said the United States may host the next G7 gathering at the golf resort. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:46
'That is obviously false': CNN reporter on Trump supporter's attempt to rewrite history
Now playing
03:35
Why CrossFit CEO wants gyms included in infrastructure bill
Now playing
03:25
Camerota gives advice to Blackwell before they start new anchor roles
Fox News/Twitter
Now playing
01:33
ADL wants Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson over racist comments
CNN
Now playing
02:36
The truth behind Covid-19 vaccines for sale on the dark web
Now playing
04:22
Levi's CEO has message for Mitch McConnell
Now playing
01:54
'You think I'm racist': Former Fox News host storms off camera

Story highlights

Survey: 1.7 million high school students used e-cigarettes in previous 30 days

Vapor product supporters say their aim is to provide tools that adults need to quit smoking

(CNN) —  

A sharp spike in vaping and the use of e-cigarettes by students has grabbed the attention of the US Food and Drug Administration.

The rapid spread of the fad was flagged in a 2016 report from the US surgeon general. It cited a 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2011 to 2015, and the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey noted that 1.7 million high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days.

For middle school students, the number was 500,000.

Now, the alarming trend is prompting concerns that some companies are taking direct aim at teenagers by tailoring and marketing e-cigarettes and vaping products to younger users.

“No kid should be using any tobacco product,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said.

“We’re going to be taking some enforcement actions very soon to target companies that we think are marketing products in ways that they’re deliberately appealing to kids,” Gottlieb told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Flavors ‘appealing to kids’

Analysts point out that flavors like tutti frutti, cotton candy and sour gummy worms are likely to attract some younger users to e-cigarettes.

Twenty-year-old Bella Kacoyannakis started vaping when she was still in her teens.
Twenty-year-old Bella Kacoyannakis started vaping when she was still in her teens.

Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has conducted a study on the presence of artificial flavoring chemicals in e-cigarettes. “To me, these are products that are really appealing to kids. … Millions of kids are trying these e-cigarette products. Studies show that one in five eighth-graders that currently use tobacco products got there by starting with e-cigarettes.

“So these e-cigarettes are also a gateway for traditional tobacco use for many young kids,” he said.

There are warnings on the labels of some vape liquids containing nicotine that are pretty clear: “Nicotine is an addictive chemical; For use by adults 18 and older.”

But Bella Kacoyannakis, a 20-year-old from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, who started vaping as a teenager, said that’s not going to stop her.

“I definitely think about … how it affects what I’m putting into my lungs, because I don’t really know too much about it. … I’m not even sure how it turns into vape. … But I haven’t been too concerned about it, obviously, because I’m still using it,” she said.

Advocate: Vape shop customers are adults

American Vaping Association President Greg Conley began doing advocacy work for vapor products in 2010.

The advocacy organization says it does not represent the industry and does not speak for it. The association takes sponsorships from independent vapor companies as well as donations from individual consumers.

“Our main concern is adults having the tools that they need to quit smoking. Young adults, if they are not smokers, they absolutely should not start using a nicotine product,” Conley said.

“Spend some time in a vape shop and see the customers that come in for these wildly named products. They are adults. They are over 25 years old, and they are the same type that watches ‘Family Guy’ on Sunday nights.

“It’s something that is a little lurid, appeals to adults. We’re not a country of serious, uptight people that just want straightforward products.”

Vaping invasion

As e-cigarettes invade high schools across the country, teachers like Jennifer Walden have found that students are even vaping during class.

Walden, of King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Massachusetts, recalled two students “seated in the back two desks in the corner. They had their hands kind of up … and they had a blue light coming in between their hands.”

Francis Thompson, the principal of Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut, is facing a similar problem. “(The) most popular form, it’s a Juul. It looks like a flash drive, it’s not, and the kids can just tuck it away when they’re done. So, how’re you going to know?” he asked.

A general lack of knowledge about e-cigarettes is also problematic, school administrators point out. “The kids that I talk to believe that there’s nothing in there that’s dangerous. They don’t think there’s anything more than water,” Thompson said.

That’s not the case, Gupta said. “It’s not water. It’s called e-liquid, and when heated by the coil, it changes to an aerosol.”

What is e-liquid?

Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, recently released a study measuring metal levels in this aerosol.

The research found chromium, nickel, zinc and lead, Navas-Acien said.

“Comparing what was initially in the liquid, that was very, very tiny amount (of lead) practically undetectable. But after the e-liquid was heated through the e-cigarette device, lead levels were then 25 times higher,” she said.

“There is no safe level of lead.”

Without standard regulations requiring uniform warning labels, people aren’t always fully aware of what they’re consuming.

When Kacoyannakis read for the first time the warning label on her Juul box, she was enlightened.

Follow CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter

  • See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

“It says ‘California Proposition 65 warning: This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer or birth defects, or other reproductive harm.’ OK, I never read that before. Doesn’t make me feel great, but that’s what it says, so, I guess, yeah, that is the only warning. But that’s probably the only warning that needs to be on there.”

Did the warning change her mind about vaping? “No, definitely not,” she said.