Concerns rise over e-cigarette use in minors

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- According to a Centers for Disease Control study, more than a quarter of a million non-smoking middle and high school students tried e-cigarettes last year.

It's evident that e-cigarettes are gaining popularity among young people. But are names like Candy Cane, Strawberry and Skittles responsible for attracting the very young? And are e-cigarettes a gateway to conventional smokes?

“I do it just because I don't like cigarettes; they just smell and they're bad for you, and this is better, it's easier, it tastes good.” 20-year-old psychology student Victoria Shea switched from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes. She's been vaping about two years now. “I’ve gotten a lot of people switched, too.”

She says no one really likes smoking, it's more of an addiction, and vaping's easier to quit. “What I've done is that I've started at the highest level of nicotine here, and then I've slowly lowered it.”

Now there is a three year, three-fold increase of e-cigarette use among non-smoking middle and high schoolers. But are mouth-watering flavors and seductive advertising responsible?

“As far as my industry is concerned, I don't think we're marketing to children at all.” Kirk Henry, owner of Clean Smoke in Sarasota and a father of two, is opening his eighth e-cigarette business. He says he offers options. “We're not on TV promoting and marketing to children, we're just offering a healthier alternative to smoking.”

And many products intended for the more mature offer flavors to satisfy a sweet tooth. “You can order bubblegum flavored vodka now, there's every flavor of every different kind of alcohol.”

There's no shortage of variety when it comes to e cigarettes. “The flavor menu includes flavors such as strawberry cheesecake, toasted marshmallow, and Swedish fish.”

But are e-cigarettes on the rise with youth here on the Suncoast? And are they a gateway to smoking?

“Even in the community you're not really seeing our students using the e-cigarettes or smoking cigarettes.” Sarasota High School guidance counselor Kristen McMahon says they are just not seeing a rise in either. “You can have a student that might think that it's a healthier choice. I know there's a lot of different flavors out there, so that could be appealing to the adolescent population.”

Henry says he is not advocating it as a healthy thing to do, only as a healthier alternative to smoking, and does not think vaping leads to smoking. “I think kids are smoking cigarettes anyway, and I think they found vaping, and I think that it's cooler, it's technology…it's like anything else -- they want to try it.”