Dangers to children, teens a concern for York's smoking cessation experts


Regardless of the health effects, Pennsylvania's health officials want to see age restrictions on vaping products.

In this state, there is no legal minimum age set for the sale of vaping devices.

"If a clerk doesn't care, they can legally sell a vaping pen to a 5-year-old," said Marie Drawbaugh, a tobacco cessation specialist for York Hospital. "And that's what's so concerning."

Experts also are concerned about how accessible the devices are to teens — and how vaping could addict them to nicotine and entice them to take up traditional smoking.

Concerns for children: Drawbaugh said she educates her clients on how important it is to keep vaping liquid away from small children and pets.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study shows that calls to poison centers involving the nicotine-containing liquids rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014.

The most common adverse health effects mentioned in the calls were vomiting, nausea and eye irritation, the study says, and more than half of calls involved children under 5.

"It's not a childproof cap," Drawbaugh said of the liquids, and the candy and fruit flavors appeal to kids. "And so they don't think there's anything wrong with it."

Young people: Vaping also could be a gateway to regular smoking, said Pam Miller, a tobacco cessation specialist for Memorial Hospital.

"As an educator, I know that we need regulations on these to protect youth from lifelong nicotine use," she said.

Another CDC study shows that more than 250,000 youth who had never smoked used a vaping device in 2013 — a threefold increase from 2011.

"They're finding that kids who've never smoked use vaping pens, get hooked on nicotine and may go on to tobacco after that," Drawbaugh said. "Are kids really trying to be safe?"

She said a legal minimum age should be set to prevent nicotine addiction in young people.

"We're hoping that the FDA would regulate it in the state of Pennsylvania," Drawbaugh said. "And we can at least keep kids safe."

Karen Rizzo, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, said the society wants to see vaping devices regulated like cigarettes to control this enticement.

"The bridging goes both ways, and the way it's being marketed, I think there's more concerns about the enticement and bridging forward than the success stories," she said. "We'd like to see more people using the product to stop smoking, versus encouraging young people to get involved in it and moving on to regular smoking.

"Young people are seeming to like it and be drawn to it, and that's exactly what we don't want to see."

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.