Nightly News   |  September 05, 2013

Number of teens trying e-cigarettes doubles

One in ten high school students reports trying e-cigarettes. It’s a trend alarming health officials who see it as a gateway to tobacco use. NBC’s Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and we turn now to news out today on what is both an emerging trend and an emerging health issue, the popularity of e-cigarettes. we're seeing them more and more, both in ads and out in the public. and new numbers back that up. the cdc said today almost 1.8 million middle and high school students have tried them, even though they aren't real cigarettes there are real concerns about their safety nonetheless. our report tonight from our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: 16-year-old joshua short started smoking this spring to relieve stress, but he knew it was bad for him so he switched to electronic cigarettes.

>> a cigarette when you're smoking it you feel dirty, but with this it just seems a lot cleaner and it doesn't seem like such a gross habit.

>> reporter: it's called vaiping because the device delivers nicotine in a water-based vapor.

>> originally i first heard about electronic cigarettes from one of those blue e-cigarette advertisements i saw on tv.

>> reporter: ads featuring celebrities like actress jenny mccarthy .

>> here's what i don't love, a kiss that tastes like an ash tray .

>> reporter: she's part of a massive industry campaign which also includes free handouts of events like new york's fashion week. critics say all that marketing may account for the fact that one in ten high schoolers say they've tried e-cigarettes, an alarming trend for health officials who worry these devices could be a gateway to tobac tobacco.

>> kids' brains are highly susceptible to nicotine addiction and many kids who start with e-cigarettes will be addicted to nicotine and struggling with the addiction for their whole life.

>> reporter: e-cigarettes are a relatively new technology and their long-term health effects still unknown. they contain varying amounts of nicotine and many come in flavors like kiwi and watermelon which critics say are meant to appeal to kids. but the industry insist its products are not for children.

>> we must prohibit the sale of these things to anybody under 18 years of age.

>> reporter: former surgeon general richard carmona is a consultant for emjoy. he says they're menlt tore adult smokers.

>> we're doing everything we can to encourage people not to start and for children not to be involved.

>> reporter: at least 15 states have banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

>> my fear is there are health consequences that are yet unknown.

>> reporter: joshua 's dad may worry about his son vaping but for joshua it's a clear choice.

>> whether or not it's bad for me, i believe it's better than a cigarette.

>> reporter: as it stands today, e-cigarettes are not monitored by a government agency . the food and drug administration plans to change that this fall and govern them just as they do tobacco products. right now, brian, a lot of people are concerned that this is just re-glamorizing the idea of smoking and that one thing may well in fact lead to another.