Kansas City hasn’t escaped the explosive nationwide growth in e-cigarette use among teenagers, area doctors say.
“I see patients with asthma. They say they’ve tried them. They think it’s a cool, harmless thing to do,” said Chitra Dinakar, an asthma and allergy specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “We even had a parent try to use it in the exam room.”
National data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, bringing the share of high school students who use them to 13 percent — more than the number who smoke conventional cigarettes.
Dinakar said her high school-age sons told her that their friends have been talking about e-cigarettes.
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Laws in both Kansas and Missouri forbid sales of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 18, the same as for other tobacco products, said Jennifer Lowry, a medical toxicologist at Children’s Mercy.
“I don’t know how enforced it is,” she said. “You can always get an older friend to buy it.”
A recently launched public health initiative of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce includes recommendations to raise the legal age locally for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21.
Lowry said the belief that e-cigarettes are safe is misplaced. Some contain significantly more nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco, than conventional cigarettes do, she said. Lowry said doctors are concerned that such high exposure to nicotine could lead to other drug use by adolescents.
The nicotine refills used in some e-cigarettes pose a serious hazard to young children who may drink the liquid, which is often flavored, Lowry said. Calls to the Missouri Poison Control Center about children under age 6 who’ve ingested nicotine have been increasing, she said. “We’ve had kids in Missouri who’ve had to go to intensive care with seizures.”
A bill under consideration in the Missouri legislature would require child-resistant packaging for nicotine refills, Lowry said.