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E-cigarette use among teens is soaring, federal survey shows

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Teenagers of the 21st century have yet another way to get their rebellion fix — and yes, it involves electronics. The use of e-cigarettes among high school students more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, according to newly released federal data.

"The use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling."

Ten percent of high school students copped to trying an e-cigarette in 2012, up from 4.7 percent in 2011, according to a survey from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 3 percent of respondents reported using an e-cigarette sometime in the past month. Of course, the findings aren't being well-received by CDC experts. "The use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling," said Thomas Friedman, MD, the center's director, in a statement. "Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to ... a lifelong addiction to nicotine."

The idea of e-cigarettes as a so-called "gateway drug" to conventional cigarettes is corroborated by the survey's findings. At least for now, e-cigarettes are cheaper than traditional varieties, and some experts and legislators warn that flavored options might appeal to teenagers. Still, of teens who'd recently used an e-cigarette, 76 percent reported also puffing on traditional smokes.

The future of e-cigarettes remains in flux

Researchers are still investigating the health implications of e-cigs, which manufacturers claim are safe when compared to traditional cigarettes and nicotine-replacement products. One recent study concluded that e-cigarettes impair respiratory function, but others have found that the devices don't trigger the same cascade of deleterious health effects as cigarettes. Additional research suggests that e-cigarettes might help smokers quit, or at least cut down on, tobacco.

The growing popularity of e-cigarettes — which were first developed a mere 10 years ago — isn't a phenomenon exclusive to teenagers. The industry is expected to crack $1 billion in revenue this year, and several Big Tobacco companies have now developed their own electronic products to cash in on the trend. Meanwhile, the future of e-cigarettes remains in flux: the FDA plans to announce new regulations that might restrict how the products are advertised and sold.