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More than twice as many American teenagers used electronic cigarettes in 2012 compared to the previous year. Public health experts worry that millions of teens may become addicted to nicotine.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that their surveys in 2012 found that 10% of American teens had tried electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), compared to 4.7% in 2011.

The CDC also found that 2.7% of middle school students had used e-cigarettes in 2012, compared to 1.4% in 2011.

CDC public health officials believe that the exploding popularity of electronic cigarettes, often advertised as a safer alternative for adults who are addicted to tobacco, may lead to millions of new cigarette addicts among American teenagers.

What Are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered, reusable devices designed to look and feel like regular cigarettes. The e-cigarette uses no tobacco. Instead, it vaporizes a mixture of nicotine and aromatic liquids into smoke. Nicotine addicts can get their hit of nicotine without exposure to tar and cancer-causing compounds in tobacco.

Why Do E-Cigarettes Appeal to Teens?

In the United States, for as long as anyone can remember, smoking cigarettes has always been seen as cool. In the twenty-first century, however, cigarettes with a different scent, such as menthol or cloves, and tobacco delivered in a different way, such as by a hookah, are generally considered "more cool."

The youngest Americans have never known as time that smoking cigarettes was not considered dangerous to health. The connections between cigarettes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, were largely unknown or ignored before the 1960's. Early in the twentieth century, doctors actually prescribed cigarettes for their patients--not that this would a good thing.

Teens understand, however, that cigarettes are linked to cancer, and that e-cigarettes do not contain carcinogens.

Clove cigarettes have become passe, and it's impossible to light up a hookah between classes, but e-cigarettes offer both the cachet and convenience of smoking the real thing, over and over and over again, without the inconvenience of snus and other smokeless tobacco products.

"Not Marketed to Teens," But Flavors Include Ice Cream

Lorillard Tobacco Corporation, which is the primary provider of e-cigarettes in the USA, insists that it does not market its product to teens. Its nicotine cartridges, however, come in flavors including cherry crush and vivid vanilla, which it says "tastes like ice cream."

Teens who smoke e-cigarettes do not, by and large, limit themselves to smoking e-cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control survey found that 76.3% of teens who use e-cigarettes also smoked regular cigarettes during the same 30-day period during which they smoked electronic cigarettes. The CDC did not report whether teens who used e-cigarettes were more or less likely to use "chew" or snuff.

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