NORFOLK, Va. – It’s a habit Bryan Lester of Norfolk didn’t expect to get hooked on.
“After that first puff, it was just kind of a done deal,” said Lester. “It was an instant addiction.”
The 31-year-old longtime smoker turned to e-cigarettes several years ago to help him quit.
“I was smoking about two packs a day; started having trouble breathing; had to get off of it; couldn't quite quit, so vaping has allowed me to do that,” Lester said. “I vape all day long. I don't have any trouble breathing at all.”
E-cigarettes are often marketed as a way for adults to quit smoking, but it’s teenagers who are starting with e-cigs and becoming addicted that has health experts sounding the alarm. They say there’s a teen vaping epidemic.
A national survey released by the CDC and FDA found approximately 2.06 million teens across the U.S. use e-cigs, with a quarter of them vaping daily.
Data also showed 84.7% of young people vaped for the flavor.
“It's been promoted toward the youth,” said Lisa Byrum, a biology and nursing professor at ODU. “It’s been promoted as a safe alternative. I've even heard that it's a non-addictive habit. Well, if there's nicotine in the e-vape liquid, which you can get nicotine versus non nicotine liquid, but as long as there's nicotine in that liquid, it's going to be addictive.”
Byrum teaches about the potentially damaging effects of e-cigarettes in her classes at ODU. She said the vaping chemicals are harmful to the lungs and can restrict breathing.
“The damage that vaping is causing is to these individual little alveolar sacs,” she said. “Is it as damaging as smoking traditional cigarettes? We do not know at this point because we haven't had a longitudinal study. We haven't been studying this for a long period of time.”
The FDA has already banned the sale of thousands of e-cigarettes and vaping products over concerns about their appeal to teens.