CDC: Makers of e-cigarettes, little cigars target kids
New types of cigarettes and tobacco threaten to addict a new generation of kids, in spite of the country's overall progress against smoking, said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I really worry about our kids," Frieden said in an exclusive interview with USA TODAY. "If the next generation gets hooked, you're talking about a lifetime struggle with addiction."
About 16% of high school students smoke, along with 19% of adults — rates that have fallen slightly or leveled off in recent years. New products threaten to undermine those gains, however, Frieden said.
Nearly one in 12 high school seniors now smoke "little cigars," which are nearly identical in size, shape and color to traditional cigarettes, but are regulated much more loosely, according to the CDC.
And nearly 7% of students in grades 6 through 12 tried an e-cigarette in 2012, more than twice the rate in 2011, according to a September CDC report. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine, but produce water vapor, instead of smoke. Studies show that vapor contains potentially hazardous chemicals, including ingredients used in anti-freeze and chemicals that cause cancer in animals.
Both electronic cigarettes and flavored little cigars fall through loopholes in federal regulations, allowing their manufacturers to target children and teens, Frieden said. Because little cigars are marginally larger than cigarettes, they fall into a lower tax category, allowing them to be sold for as little as 7 cents each. A pack of cigarettes costs at least $5 in some states and more than $11 in New York.