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MIAMI (AFP) – E-cigarette use is exploding among young people and is now “a major public health concern,” the US Surgeon General warned Thursday, sparking disagreement from experts in Britain where the devices are seen more favorably.
The battery-powered devices heat a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor that is inhaled, and some experts worry that a new generation of smokers is becoming addicted.
About one in six US high school students say they have used e-cigarettes in the past month.
“E-cigarette use has increased considerably in recent years, growing an astounding 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, in a preface to the report.
“These products are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States, surpassing conventional tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and hookahs.”
Murthy said the dangers of e-cigarettes include nicotine, which “can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.”
For young people, nicotine use in any form is unsafe, said the report, which was written and reviewed by more than 150 experts.
It also said the secondhand aerosol that is exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals.
But Murthy admitted to “gaps in scientific evidence” when it comes to the dangers of e-cigarettes.
“For example, the health effects and potentially harmful doses of heated and aerosolized constituents of e-cigarette liquid – including solvents, flavorants, and toxicants – are not completely understood,” he said. “However, although e-cigarettes generally emit fewer toxicants than combustible tobacco products, we know that aerosol from e-cigarettes is not harmless.”