MD Anderson affirms Surgeon General’s conclusions on e-cigarette use among youth and young adults

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center fully supports the United States Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent the use of e-cigarettes by our nation’s youth. The Surgeon General’s Report, released today, emphasizes that this diverse class of nicotine delivery devices presents a significant public health threat that must be addressed.

“With the staggering amount of lives claimed by tobacco use each year, we must make every effort to limit youth exposure to products that may lead to lifelong tobacco dependencies,” said Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “The Surgeon General’s Report provides much-needed clarification of short and long-term health risks of e-cigarette use by young people and offers sound recommendations to prevent a new generation from developing nicotine addictions.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarettes are the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth, with rates that have increased significantly in recent years.

Approximately 16 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school students reported current e-cigarette use in 2015, compared to 1.5 percent and 0.6 percent in 2011, respectively.

The Surgeon General’s Report affirms a strong association between the use of e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco products, and research has suggested that e-cigarette use may lead to using traditional cigarettes.

Recently, the CDC reported that American rates of conventional cigarette use has dropped to an all-time low since 1964 of 15.1 percent. Still, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and kills an estimated 480,000 Americans annually.

“Though we have made tremendous progress in reducing cigarette use in both adults and children, trends in e-cigarette use are troubling,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., division head and vice president, Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “These devices are designed to deliver nicotine, an incredibly addictive drug which is unsafe for youth in any form. I hope increased awareness from today’s report will help reverse the growing popularity of these devices.”

The Surgeon General’s Report also reiterates that aerosol produced by e-cigarettes is not harmless vapor. Rather, it contains a number of volatile chemicals and known carcinogens.

Recognizing the dangers of secondhand smoke, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently passed a ruling requiring all public housing to be smoke-free facilities. While MD Anderson applauds this action to protect federal housing residents from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, the current rule does not prohibit the use of e-cigarette.

“This ruling is a tremendous step forward in protecting public housing residents. However, knowing that e-cigarettes are far from harmless, comprehensive smoke-free policies should include prohibitions for these and other alternative tobacco products as well,” says Hawk. 

Advocates of e-cigarettes often suggest they may be useful for smokers attempting to quit. MD Anderson is strongly supportive of smokers using current evidence-based cessation methods; however, according to the CDC, there is no sufficient evidence to support that e-cigarettes are safe and effective cessation tools for smokers.

Acknowledging the potential public health impacts of alternative tobacco products, the Food and Drug Administration issued new rules earlier this year to extend its regulatory authority over all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah and other previously unregulated tobacco products.

The Surgeon General’s Report confirms the need for federal regulation of these products while proposing additional necessary actions to prevent e-cigarette use and associated harms in our nation’s youth. These include:

  • Raising and enforcing minimum legal-age of purchase for all tobacco products
  • Including e-cigarettes into smoke-free policies
  • Regulating e-cigarette marketing
  • Educating the public on the dangers of youth e-cigarette use
  • Expanding and improving research related to e-cigarettes

“MD Anderson is committed to ending cancer, and one of the single most important steps toward that goal is to eliminate tobacco use,” said DePinho. “Through our EndTobacco program, an initiative of MD Anderson’s Cancer Moon Shots Program, we are supportive of any evidence-based policy actions to protect our country’s public health especially that of future generations, from the devastating effects of tobacco.”