TARGET 8: E-cigarettes the \"new normal\" for local teens

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COLUMBIA - The growing popularity of e-cigarettes has some teens saying they'll do whatever it takes to "get the high", even if it means bringing them to the classroom.

The problem: Access at school and online.

A group of students, who wanted to remain anonymous, spoke up about how e-cigarette use is the "new normal" and "something they see everyday."

"It's not really a policy that is enforced in school so people get away with it," said a local Hickman High School student.

Another student said, "An e-cig or a vap you can't smell it so it's easy to do in the hallways or in the bathroom."

Columbia recently increased the age requirement to 21 to purchase tobacco products. But, local teens told KOMU 8 News: "it's just as simple as asking an older sibling for it or going online." 

When putting "e-cig" into Google, the first link that loads is a website that has e-cigarettes for sale. The website only requires a "click" to verify a user is over 18. Then once, on the site the customer can purchase any tobacco or vapor product and have it delivered within 24 hours.

E-cig use has skyrocketed among teens state-wide

The 2015 Missouri Youth and Tobacco Survey found cigarette use among teens declined from 2005 to 2013 but then skyrocketed in the last two years when the survey included e-cigarettes and vapor products.

In 2013, the survey found 31.8 percent of high school students reported they used any form of tobacco. However, in 2015, the number jumped to 53 percent of high schoolers using tobacco products that included vapor products.

The survey also found that 40 percent of high school students admitted to trying a vapor product at least once and 22 percent currently use vapor products.

Can e-cigs be addictive? Experts say yes

Kourosh Mobl used to be an avid e-cig user but stopped shortly after realizing the effects are considered harmful.

"It's not how they think it is. It is still the same as smoking a cigarette," Mobl said. "You still can be addicted to it."

Mobl said, in his high school days, a close friend of his got addicted.

"He didn't realize it was actually because of how much nicotine he put in, which is why he wanted more and more," Mobl said.

He sadi his friend would spend close to $100 a week just on various tools for the e-cigs.

Are e-cigs the "healthy alternative" to smoking?

KOMU 8 News reached out to a number of current teen e-cigarette users who say they always thought e-cigs were the "healthy alternative" to smoking traditional cigarettes.

A scientific study that was released late last year researched the effects of e-cigarette use in comparison to typical Marlborough and Camel products.

The study, done by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, found that e-cigarette use is not a healthy alternative to cigarettes. Researchers also found no evidence to support the theory that there is actual "health benefits" from e-cigs that would help curb cigarette use.

A research hospital, University of California San Francisco, came out with a similar study a few weeks ago. The study found that vapor products are 28 percent less likely to stop current smokers from using other tobacco products.

What needs to be done?

Based on his experience, Mobl said, "There needs to be more education on the actual effects of e-cigs, so kids stop thinking it's both 'healthy' and 'cool' to do."

Boone County health officials said they had high hopes that their numbers will be lower than the state data because of the age restriction that has been enforced in Columbia. 

However, local health officials did identify it has been a problem in the past and said they won't be surprised if they still have 'more work to do.'"

"It is definitely something we want to curb," said Michelle Shikles, public health promotion supervisor for Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services. "Kids are using e-cigarette's as a way to start using tobacco products."

Shikles said that the department's approach would include: encouraging parents to be more educated on prevention strategies, as well as more education in schools on the harmful effects e-cigs can have.

"Nicotine is harmful no matter if you're getting it from a cigarette or an electronic cigarette," Shikles said. "Nicotine affects the brains of our youth and that's what we want to prevent."

Columbia Public School's Current Tobacco Policy

Columbia Public Schools have a specific policy addressing how e-cigarette and tobacco use is prohibited on school property and school-sponsored events.