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Despite ban in St. Louis area, appeal of vaping remains strong for minors

Ciggfreeds is a St. Louis vape shop. In St. Louis and St. Louis County, you must be 21 or older to purchase tobacco products. (Dec. 27, 2017)
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Ciggfreeds is a St. Louis vape shop. In St. Louis and St. Louis County, you must be 21 or older to purchase tobacco products.

A year after St. Louis and St. Louis County passed legislation to raise the age of purchasing tobacco products to 21, teenagers are still possessing these products at a high rate. A 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows that while the number of teenage tobacco users has declined, the number of teenagers who use electronic cigarettes is greater than those who use conventional cigarettes.

In 2016, among current tobacco product users, 47.2 percent of high school students and 42.4 percent of middle school students used tobacco products, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) were the most commonly used tobacco product among high (11.3 percent) and middle (4.3 percent) school students. Current use of any tobacco product did not change significantly during 2011–2016 among high or middle school students, although combustible tobacco product use declined.

Some experts attribute the large number of underage smokers to the variety of flavors that e-cigarettes contain.

“Some of them can be like candy flavors or cereal flavors, and they have all of these big names and they’re colorful and I don’t know if that appeals to a younger audience,” said Cherice Barrera, the manager at Ciggfreeds, a St. Louis vape shop.

According to a report by the U.S. surgeon general, a correlation exists between the variety of flavors and the people who smoke them. In the 2016 report, the surgeon general found that the flavoring of electronic cigarettes is one of the top reasons why minors smoke e-cigarettes.

“There is very little data to show that these are safe products," said Dr. Bobby Shah, a pulmonologist at St. Luke’s Hospital. "They would like to argue that these products have already been considered safe when they are added to food products, but that’s in the form of an oral additive, that’s not when they are vaporized or heated up to when they could potentially become toxic."

Doctors still warn that e-cigarette use can lead to similar respiratory problems that are associated with other forms of tobacco.

Follow Chad on Twitter : @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.