WASHINGTON – The number of young people taking up e-cigarettes is surging nationwide and California is no exception. There have been 26 deaths linked to e-cigs nationwide and a growing number of health problems, according to the CDC.
This week, Congress is facing the issue head-on with a hearing set for Wednesday.
Lawmakers are calling the spike in vaping's popularity an “outbreak” and an “epidemic.” But not everyone thinks that way.
Some long-term smokers, like Chris, understand e-cigs to be a way of quitting cigarettes.
“It’s tough to try to quit because of the psychological effects of quitting,” said Chris.
Chris started smoking at 14 and has tried to quit, too many times to count.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “It’s been an uphill battle.”
He said he knows cigarettes can kill, but now with e-cigs, he says he has hope. Vaping has helped him in his war against the cravings.
Some doctors agree with Chris, including one who will come to testify Wednesday that if e-cigs are used right, they’re an effective way to stop smoking.
“That was my direction when I went to e-cigarettes,” said Chris.
But the problem America is seeing is a sudden surge of young people picking up vaping.
The number of high school students using e-cigs jumped from 11 percent in 2017 to 20 in 2018. For middle schoolers, it jumped nearly 5 percent, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Megan Arendt, who works for the Action on Smoking and Health, America's oldest anti-tobacco organization, said the number of children who have tried vaping, and potentially can get addicted is alarming. She blames a big part of that on ads.
“Advertisements like that reach younger generations,” said Arendt.
Arendt said e-cigarettes shouldn’t exist, but if they do, the ads shouldn’t. In just the last year, there have been over a thousand lung injury cases associated with e-cigs, according to the CDC.
“That leads to the initiation of nicotine addiction that no one should have at all,” said Arendt. “It’s a shame that we are dealing with a cigarette epidemic.”
Arendt knows e-cigs are tobacco-free, but is concerned about how they have nicotine, which is highly addictive, and can affect the developing brain and can cause lung and heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Juul specifically has been doing a lot of fun, hip ads that really appeal to youth and we’ve been getting calls all the time asking how is that even possible,” said Arendt.
In 2017, 17 percent of California high schoolers vaped at least once in 30 days, about 4 percent higher than the national average.
Now Congresswoman Julia Brownley is pushing for the No Vaping Ads bill, to get rid of ads on radio and TV, and deter kids from picking up the product.
But some doctors said that’s not fair, that e-cigs, when used correctly can help people, like Chris, get off smoking where the tobacco burns the lungs.
“E-Cigarettes make it easier, it’s a lot cleaner, it’s a lot lighter on the lungs, and a lot healthier for you,” said Chris. “You just got to pace yourself, and just go one day at a time and keep in mind it’s just one day at a time.”
Juul has put advertising on hold for now.
A committee that includes two California lawmakers is holding a hearing Wednesday to address how to make sure e-cigs don’t fall into the hands of children.