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The unthinkable has happened: High school kids have discovered e-cigs
Raise the banners!
Those teens are always up on the latest electronics.
Those teens are always up on the latest electronics. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
Y

oung people (would you believe it?), with all their youthful vitality and life ahead of them and whatnot, have gotten their innocent little hands on the futuristic robo-smoke called e-cigarettes — and the CDC is ON IT.

E-cigs, as the name suggests, are kind of like regular cigarettes, but electronic. Instead of tobacco smoke they use a tiny battery to gently heat up sometimes-flavored nicotine. The emitted vapor is generally thought to be healthier than the smoke burned from paper cigarettes, although some research has cast that claim into doubt. E-cigs are often used to help addicted smokers kick the habit.

But they've evolved a bit beyond their basic utility. Stephen Dorff would very much like you to believe them cool. And there are even e-cig cafes now where people can kick back and toke on strawberry-kiwi nicotine or whatever. Which is why it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that a small percentage of teenagers have been caught using them. USA Today reports:

Overall tobacco use among middle- and high school students last year — 6.7 percent and 23.3 percent, respectively — was about one percentage point lower than in 2011, mostly due to a decline in teens smoking cigarettes, according to CDC's analysis of the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Yet the survey, which queried sixth- through 12th-graders, found a notable increase in those who've used hookahs, also known as waterpipes, and e-cigarettes — both of which aren't federally regulated and taxed as are cigarettes. [USA Today]

That notable increase, notes USA Today, is a leap to 2.8 percent from 1.5 percent of high school students.

In fact, the Washington Post reports that e-cigarettes are "beginning to show up in the hallways of the nation's middle schools and high schools." The problem is that inundated health officials and school districts have, according to the Post, "just begun to debate their potential dangers," while "educators are grappling with how to deal with students who are found puffing on e-cigarettes while at school." (More on that in a bit.)

Now, the CDC's report does have an admittedly noble goal: To get the FDA to quit its dawdling and proceed with regulating a new generation of smokeless tobacco products. But the hand-wringing of USA Today and the Washington Post, in this instance, is indeed silly and overwrought. The next you thing you know, teenagers will be consuming alcohol or inhaling cinnamon.

Look, no one is debating that inhaling nicotine impairs developing brains. It would be prudent and necessary to inform young people of such dangers. But I highly doubt school officials are much worried in any case. In all likelihood, administrators and teachers will regulate e-cigs the same way they have regulated Pogs, Pokémon cards, Four Loko, real cigarettes, and old issues of Penthouse: By simply taking them away.

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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