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FDA is failing to protect kids from tobacco and vaping, American Lung Association says

Impact of nicotine in e-cigarettes for teens
Impact of nicotine in e-cigarettes for teens 03:54

A new report from the American Lung Association says U.S. health officials are falling short when it comes to protecting kids from the dangers of tobacco and electronic cigarettes. The organization says states and the federal government have failed to take appropriate action on policies to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

E-cigarette use has reached epidemic levels among the nation's youth, rising 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, the group said. Twenty-seven percent of high school students used at least one tobacco product last year, up from 19.6 percent in 2017.

"This year's report finds a disturbing failure of the federal government and states to take action to prevent and reduce tobacco use in 2018, placing the health and lives of Americans at risk, including our youth," American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer said in a statement.

Each year, about 480,000 deaths are caused by tobacco use in the United States. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking tobacco.

The latest warning echoes a report out Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which drew attention to the drastic increase in teens vaping. According to the data, in 2018, 20 percent of high school students and five percent of middle school students used e-cigarettes.

"The increasing use of e-cigarettes among youth threatens five decades of public health gains," the AAP said.

While often marketed as "safer" than traditional cigarettes, experts say e-cigarettes pose their own dangers, particularly for young people who can easily get hooked.

"Let's start with just nicotine itself. We know that nicotine is extremely addictive. Whether you use it once, twice, a couple of weeks, you can become addicted," Dr. Tara Narula told "CBS This Morning" Monday. "The amount of nicotine that kids are getting from e-cigarettes may be much more than they would get from traditional cigarettes. In fact, one of these pods has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes."

Nicotine can also affect the adolescent brain, which continues to develop until the age of 25.

"Nicotine has the potential to change learning, memory, [and] impulse control. It also can affect mood disorders, increasing the risk of mood disorders, and prime the brain for risk of addiction to other substances," Narula said.

Many experts have also voiced concern that e-cigarette flavorings may not be safe for inhalation. Fruity flavors are especially popular with teens, and in November the FDA announced plans to restrict their sales in retail stores. 

The American Lung Association's "State of Tobacco Control" report grades states and the federal government on steps taken to enact tobacco control policies that are proven effective.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia received an "F" for failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention programs.

When it came to the federal government, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration received a failing mark when it came to the regulation of tobacco products.

"All states and the federal government can do more to reduce tobacco use; the FDA in particular has been asleep at the switch for far too long. Their failure to act for years set the stage for e-cigarette use among youth to finally explode into an epidemic," said Wimmer.

In response to the report, the FDA pointed to its 2018 proposal to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars in the United States, as well as new restrictions on the sales of flavored e-cigarettes.

"The FDA remains fully committed to significantly reducing tobacco-related disease and death and has made tremendous progress on this front through our comprehensive plan on tobacco and nicotine regulation – with ambitious public health goals for 2019," the agency said in a statement.

The American Lung Association calls on states and the federal government to take more action, including adequately funding tobacco control efforts, passing smoke-free workplace laws, and limiting the sale of all tobacco products to age 21 and older.

"The health of our children is on the line — the time for half measures is over," Wimmer said.

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