Vaping among teens is on the rise at an alarming rate, spurring federal regulators and health officials to start cracking down on the e-cigarette industry for fear the trend will lead to dire health consequences, especially among preteens and teens. It has also prompted Facebook's Occulus to back a pilot program to see how virtual reality technology can help turn the tide.
According to a study published last year by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 6.3 percent of 14-year-olds and 9.3 percent of 16-year-olds are vaping. (E-cigarettes are handheld electronic devices that vaporize a fluid, which typically includes nicotine and a flavor component.)
Among the reasons for the increase in e-cigarette use among children: They are easy to get — you can purchase them right online — they are difficult for parents and teachers to detect, and there's a strong belief they are safer than cigarettes.
Yet evidence suggests e-cigarettes serve as a gateway for preteens and teens who go on to use other tobacco products, including cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and premature death. For children, exposure to nicotine in e-liquid products, even in small amounts, could lead to death from cardiac arrest, as well as seizure, coma and respiratory failure.
Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down. A few days ago FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that they are "conducting a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes, specifically Juul products, to minors at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers."
In addition, the FDA is considering regulating e-cigarettes as an over-the-counter drug. "Right now we're looking very actively at could we bring e-cigarettes into the over-the-counter regulatory pathway, which would give us many more tools to look at both safety and benefit, and study whether or not an e-cigarette actually does promote smoking cessation and also give us many more tools to actually study the toxicology associated with it and see what effects it might have on the lung," Gottlieb said in an interview with Meg Tirrell at CNBC's "Healthy Returns" conference on March 28.