The Road from Tobacco to E-Cigarettes, Vaping, Nicotine & Marijuana

Cigarette use is at an all-time low, thanks to aggressive anti-smoking campaigns. But a new trend has emerged in its place—vaping. Estimates vary, but there are probably between 6,000 and 15,000 "vape shops" in the U.S.1 By comparison, there were 13,172 Starbucks shops in 2016.

Vaping uses electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes), a device that heats a nicotine-containing liquid to the boiling point so the vapors can be inhaled. Vaping is marketed as a safer alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes and as a way to help smokers eventually quit. While safer than smoking combustible cigarettes, the practice of vaping is too new for us to know its long-term effects. What is known is that nicotine is not safe for teen users and is highly addictive; thus, vaping is a way for teens to get hooked on nicotine.

E-cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products are age-restricted (18 years or older in most states), yet teen vaping increased 900 percent from 2011 to 2016.2 Teen use of e-cigarettes increased so much between 2017 and 2018 that the FDA released the Centers for Disease Control data on teen use in 2018 ahead of schedule, and cited teen vaping as a public health concern.3

The largest e-cigarette vendor, Juul, has been reprimanded by the FDA for targeting teens by promoting teen-friendly flavors such as bubble gum, popcorn, and Cheerios.4 Teens can discreetly use e-cigarettes at school because the vapor and odor disappear quickly and e-cigarette holders can look like thumb drives or key chains. Additionally, liquids containing marijuana are also available in places where that drug is legal, but, as with nicotine-containing products, anything can be bought online without verifying one's age.

As of this writing (mid-January), e-cigarette companies are no longer allowed to sell flavors other than tobacco and menthol at convenience stores (but not vape shops), and they must revamp their age-verification process. Notably, flavored combustible cigarettes (other than mint and menthol) were banned in 2009.5

1. "E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General" (2016), 151:
2. Ibid., p. vii.
3. FDA News Release (Nov. 15, 2018):
4. The Washington Post (Oct. 2, 2018):
5. Reuters (Sept. 22, 2009):
6. CDC Fact Sheet on Smoking & Tobacco Use (figures as of 2016):
7. CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Nov. 16, 2018):
8. Ibid.; CDC fact sheet on Youth and Tobacco Use (figures as of 2017):
9. CNN (Sept. 17, 2017):
10. Dennis Thompson, "Could Vaping Lead Teens to Pot Smoking?", HealthDay (April 23, 2018):

has an M.S. in chemistry from the University of Texas at Dallas, and an M.A. in bioethics from Trinity International University. She resides in Dallas and currently works as a freelance science writer and educator.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #48, Spring 2019 Copyright © 2019 Salvo |