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Researchers say teens who vape e-cigarettes that are candy flavored get addicted more quickly and vape longer. Getty Images
  • Researchers say teens who vape candy flavored e-cigarettes get addicted more quickly and vape for a longer period of time.
  • Experts say this shows the health dangers associated with e-cigarettes, especially those that are flavored.
  • Experts also say parents should talk to teens about if they vape, what they vape, and how long they vape.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t allow the sale of sweet flavored cigarettes, but candy flavored vaping products are still the rage.

And kids are getting hooked, according to new research published today in the journal Pediatrics.

The study compared teens who used nontraditional flavored e-cigarettes with teens who vaped only tobacco, mint, or menthol flavors.

Six months later, those who used sweet flavors were more likely to still be vaping and inhaling more per vaping session, researchers said.

The research involved 478 teenagers in Los Angeles. The teens were surveyed every 6 months from 10th through 12th grade.

The researchers say 9 out of 10 participants vaped nontraditional flavors such as candy, fruit, and even butter.

Of those using nontraditional flavors, 64 percent continued to vape 6 months later. Of those using only traditional flavors, about 43 percent were still vaping.

The researchers say regulations to reduce teen exposure to flavored e-cigarettes may help stop them from inhaling so much and becoming long-term users. Regulations may also encourage current users to stop.

Study authors acknowledged that the observational study design doesn’t support causal inferences.

It should also be noted that data collection took place in 2015 and 2016. That’s before some currently popular flavored e-cigarettes with high nicotine concentrations were introduced.

Dr. Robert McKenna is a thoracic surgeon and director of minimally invasive chest surgery and thoracic surgical oncology at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

He told Healthline the study was well done, and its conclusions are likely true. He added that longer-term follow-up studies are needed for confirmation.

“It shows the intelligence of companies that make vaping products. How clever they are at finding ways to make vaping more attractive, taste better, more addicting for teens,” McKenna said.

As a lung surgeon, he’s had the opportunity to speak to many smokers. He said most took up smoking in their teens.

“If you haven’t started smoking by age 20, it’s unlikely you’re going to. It’s a critical time for companies that make e-cigarettes to go after the teen market. The study showed that teens are attracted to nontraditional flavors and use more. It’s amazing how quickly it’s catching on with teens,” McKenna said.

“It really is a dangerous, addictive product. It will take time, but future research may bring even more damning evidence,” he added.

According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use increased 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle schoolers between 2017 and 2018.

As vaping grows in popularity, so does the potential for long-term health problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating more than 1,600 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury. There are 34 confirmed deaths among those cases. Most of the samples tested to date contained THC.

THC or not, McKenna says it doesn’t make sense to think you can take that much smoke into your lungs and not pay a price for it.

He’s in favor of a ban on flavored e-cigarettes.

“We need to send kids the message that it’s going to be a problem in the future,” he said.

McKenna calls the relationship between tobacco and healthcare “incredible.”

A third of all cancer deaths in this country is related to smoking. Smoking is also related to heart attack, stroke, and other health problems,” he said.

In September, the Trump administration announced it was working on a ban of flavored e-cigarettes.

On October 17, e-cigarette company JUUL voluntarily suspended sale of its non-tobacco, non-menthol-based flavors, including mango, creme, fruit, and cucumber. The company said it will “refrain from lobbying the Administration on its draft flavor guidance and will fully support and comply with the final policy when effective.”

On October 24, the FDA issued a warning letter to vaping company Econsmoke, looking to remove almost 100 flavored vaping products from the market. The agency said the products are “without required marketing authorization, are adulterated, and misbranded.”

The warning letter also states that online advertising and social media posts don’t include the required nicotine warning statement: “WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”

Meanwhile, some states are taking matters into their own hands and banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. But these bans may face many court challenges.

Dr. Richard L. Seidman is a pediatrician and chief medical officer of L.A. Care Health Plan in California.

“Doctors have long asked patients if they smoke,” Seidman told Healthline. “But how many pediatricians are asking their patients or the parents of their patients whether they are vaping?”

He noted that because e-cigarette devices can be deceptive, parents might not even be aware their kids are doing it. Some resemble USB sticks or guitar picks. Some are even built into backpacks or hoodie string ties, he explained.

“Pediatricians need to let parents know that the danger is especially high in teens whose brains are still developing,” Seidman advised.

“They have to be observant and speak to their kids. What makes all of this especially troubling is that there is no clear answer on why these cases of rapid lung disease are suddenly popping up,” he said.

Whether they’re dealing with preteens or adults, doctors should be asking specific questions about vaping, Seidman said.

“Ask how often they are vaping and where they are getting their vaping supplies. This information can not only help physicians in treating their patients, but it can be valuable for the health agencies that are addressing the crisis on a wider level,” he added.