by: Tom Regan Updated:
ATLANTA - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells Channel 2 Action News experimental use of nicotine-fueled electronic cigarettes has doubled among middle and high school students.
"We do have reports, including from the Atlanta area, of kids in public high schools using e-cigarettes in the classroom to vape, because it doesn't have an odor, is small and can be used surreptitiously," said Dr. Tim McAfee, CDC director of the Office on Smoking and Health.
McAfee told Channel 2's Tom Regan, e-cigarette use among high school students nationwide increased from five to 10 percent from 2011 to 2012.
He said while the cigarettes may be less dangerous than conventional cigarettes because they do not produce tar or smoke, the nicotine carries risk for young people.
"We know that nicotine itself is harmful to the developing adolescent brain," McAfee said.
McAfee also said a young teen who experiments with e-cigarettes may be more likely to try tobacco cigarettes. But an advocate for the e-cigarette industry disagrees.
"There is no proof e-cigarettes are a gateway to conventional cigarettes. That is like saying Coca-Cola is a gateway product to rum and coke," said Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association Director Roy Story.
Story said that his organization favors government regulation on the marketing and sale of electronic cigarettes, including restricting sales to adults age 18 and older.
"Electronic cigarettes are 1,400 percent less harmful than (conventional cigarettes) but nobody seems to mention that," Story told Regan.
Electronic cigarettes use a battery device to vaporize a liquid mixture of nicotine and flavorings. The products are not regulated and there are no age restrictions for purchase in many states including Georgia.
The Georgia General Assembly is considering legislation that would ban the sale of the products to those under the age of 18.
The CDC reported it had first-hand accounts from students at Grady High School that students were using electronic cigarettes in school.
Some students told Regan they too have witnessed students smoking e-cigarettes in classrooms, hallways and elsewhere on campus.
"Today, I saw someone smoking an e-cigarette in the courtyard at lunch," said student London McCray.
Channel 2 Action News sent an email to Atlanta Public Schools seeking a comment on their policy regarding e-cigarettes and was still awaiting a response.