The US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has declared e-cigarette usage among young people is now an "epidemic," citing a number of studies that reveal a spike in so-called vaping among teenagers.
For instance, when surveyed, more than one out of every five high school seniors reported vaping within the previous 30 days.
Although it's against the law to sell e-cigarettes to minors, and some states even ban their sale to people under 21, most kids have no trouble getting their hands on them, either through sales at brick-and-mortar stores or online.
Teens who want to hide their habit from their parents or other authority figures don't have difficulty accomplishing that, either. The battery-powered devices can be small. In fact, some even look like flash drives and can be charged in a computer.
The devices contain liquid, usually spiked with nicotine and often doused with flavors appealing to kids, such as bubble gum and fruit. The devices turn the liquid into a vapor, which the user inhales, hence the term "vaping" used to described e-cigarette use.
At a news conference alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the US surgeon general said, contrary to popular misconceptions, the vapor can be quite dangerous.
"And we know that the notion that e-cigarette aerosol is harmless water vapor," he said, "something my 14-year-old son thought was true, is a myth."
Dr. Adams went on to list the immediate and long-term dangers of e-cigarette use.
"We know that nicotine exposure during adolescence can uniquely harm the adolescent brain, impacting learning, memory and attention," he said. "We know that exposure during this critical brain period can lead to further addictions."
HHS Secretary Azar said since e-cigarettes are generally considered a safer alternative to regular cigarettes, they have some value to people trying to kick the habit. But he cautions against using e-cigs for any reason other than as a smoking cessation aid.
"E-cigarettes could help many American adults end their addiction to traditional cigarettes," he said. "But we can not let them ensnare younger Americans into a new addiction."
The surgeon general and the HHS secretary called for bans on indoor vaping and tighter retail restrictions.