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Concerns over health effects of vaping — and rising use among teens

Teen vaping dangers
Researchers raise concerns about teens and vaping 05:01

E-cigarette use and vaping have been described as safer alternatives to smoking cigarettes, but advocacy groups and some scientists studying the growing trend say those nicotine-containing devices carry known health risks to developing teenage brains -- and some kids are already using them.

A new study from researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University found e-cigarettes can potentially release significant amounts of toxic metals in its vapors, which users inhale. Scientists examined 56 e-cigarette users, and discovered a number of e-cigarettes released vapors with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese, and/or nickel.

Vaping — inhaling the vapors from e-cigarette products — is something you can find teens posting about all over social media.

Researchers say young people who use e-cigarettes are six times more likely as those who have never vaped to later begin smoking. CBS News

High school sophomore Kyler Kristopaitis is one of them. Kyler, who is 16, first tried vaping while in the sixth grade, "because my friend was doing it."

Government statistics found millions of teens have tried it: nearly 36 percent of 12th graders had tried some form of vaping in 2017, which included e-cigarettes ... devices that can look like cigarettes, pens or USB data storage drives.

"Everyone does it, like, everyone," Kristopaitis told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner. "Every time I go into the bathroom there's someone doing it."

Now, researchers at the University of Southern California's School of Medicine are raising concerns about vaping's impact. Their studies show some teens who likely would not have smoked regular cigarettes are using e-cigarettes. It also found teens who do vape are six times more likely as those who have never vaped to later begin smoking.

Scientist Jessica Barrington-Trimis calls the normalization of e-cigarette products and vaping products "really problematic."

The vaping industry disputes the study, saying there "is no peer-reviewed science that establishes a causal relationship between vapor use and smoking initiation by minors."

Kristopaitis told Werner he's not worried about vaping. "I don't really think about it. It's just advertised as being healthier than smoking cigarettes."

Some research does seem to support the idea that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes. But a new study from the NYU School of Medicine finds that nicotine from e-cigarettes can cause cancer in mice; and the authors wrote, it's "possible that e-cigarette smoke may contribute to lung and bladder cancer, as well as heart disease, in humans."

E-cigarette manufacturers say their products are not aimed at children. But Vince Willmore, with the non-profit group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, is skeptical.

"There are over 7,000 flavors of e-cigarettes on the market, including flavors like gummy bear [and] cotton candy," Willmore said. "Those are flavors that clearly appeal to kids."

Bubble gum and gummi bear vapor flavors. CBS News

One brand that has become particularly trendy is Juul. The company says its device, which resembles a USB drive, is now the No. 1 selling e-cigarette in the country. 

One pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

"It's slick, it's high tech, it looks like a thumb drive on a computer, which means you can hide it easily," said Willmore. "And it gives a very strong hit of nicotine. So, this is about an ideal tobacco product to get kids hooked."

A Juul vaping device. Juul

Werner asked, "And do you think the companies know that?"

"Well, if they didn't know it when they introduced the product on the market, they should know that by now."

Kristopaitis says at his high school, Juul products are everywhere, even though selling them to minors is illegal.

When asked if they are hard to get, he replied, "No, not at all. You can put them on your Snapchat story, 'Who's got a Juul?' And everyone has one, and you can just buy one so fast."

The company says its products are not for kids. In a statement, Juul said, "We condemn the use of our product by minors. We are fully committed to dramatically reducing the incidence of young people using Juul." 

The company says, to that end, it is "investing in significant resources and personnel" to combat the problem.

But some kids clearly aren't listening: On social media the hashtag #doitforjuul has inspired many to post themselves and others "JUULing" … and Willmore says, as a first step, the FDA should ban the flavored products he says kids are attracted to.

"We'd like to see the FDA exercise that authority," he said.

The Vapor Technology Association says it's working "aggressively" to push federal legislation that would restrict marketing and youth access to vapor products.

The FDA does have the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, but last year they delayed regulations that would have forced some e-cigarette makers to seek the agency's approval for their products — and could have forced some products off the market.

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