Dangerously Delicious

Teens Are Huge Buyers of Flavored E-Cigs, Studies Show

A Harvard study found that 15-year-olds were the most likely, out of 30 million Europeans who smoked, to consume e-cigarettes. How the personal vaporizers became a teen candyland.

Spencer Platt/Getty

Peppermint party, chocolate, cinnamon: e-cigarettes are beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It’s no wonder then that a study from the Harvard School of Public Health released Monday revealed 15-year-olds as the group most likely to have tried e-cigarettes out of the 30 million Europeans who did in 2012. Analyzing data from an international public opinion survey about Europeans’ attitudes towards tobacco, researchers looked at the responses of 26,566 youth and adults from 27 countries. One in five current smokers were shown to have tried e-cigarettes—an alarming majority of them were teens.

“These new findings show that millions—including many young people and smokers trying to quit—are trying e-cigarettes, which underscores the importance of assessing their potential harm or benefits,” said Constantine Vardavas, senior research scientist at HSPH’s Center for Global Tobacco Control (CGTC).

The new data bolsters pre-existing concerns about the prevalence of teen use of e-cigarettes. A September report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012, a trend CDC Director Tom Frieden called “deeply troubling.”

Harvard’s study coincides with another study on electronic cigarettes, this one providing a possible explanation for the rise in teen use. In the University of California San Diego paper, also released Monday, researchers compiled the first-ever comprehensive look at e-cigarette brands on the Internet—an industry they found to be shelling out 10 new flavors and 240 new brands per month. The result is a colorful circus of personal vaporizers, boasting 466 brands and over 7,000 flavors. Fruits were shown to be the most popular flavor, followed close behind by dessert and alcohol.

From Bull Smoke to V2Cigs, the online marketplaces range from high luxury gadgets to tween vaping toys—all requiring nothing more than a click of the mouse to own. While the Federal Drug Administration views e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, there are rarely roadblocks (save for a “you must be 18 to enter” box) to buying online.

The UC Davis results, taken during two different time periods (May-August 2012; December 2013-January 2014), revealed the contrived nature of the budding industry. A range of playful names like “berry blast” and “blue crush” mask the potential hazards of e-cigarettes, which can lead to death when ingested by small children.

The e-cig companies tendency to play to juveniles, it seems, is no accident. In February, Bloomberg estimated the market to be worth upwards of $1.5 billion, a number that would greatly increase with the addition of more new smokers. In the interest of snagging new business, new e-cig companies seem to be playing to their young audience with a concept far simpler (and sweeter) than these are healthier: these are tasty.