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Sweet temptation: Getting kids hooked on lollipop flavors

Consumer Reports News: July 29, 2009 04:22 PM

This week I spoke on Good Morning America about the dangers of hookah smoking (also called waterpipe, shisha (sheesha), goza, or hubble bubble) for teens. I blogged about the subject last year after my son—then only fifteen years old—told me how easy it was to get served at hookah bars in New York City. Like many adolescents, he was convinced that, unlike cigarettes, it was not harmful.

In fact, hookahs do use tobacco (referred to as Massel) which comes in a wide variety of flavors— including apple, strawberry, cappuccino, coconut and mango—intended to provide smokers with a pleasant smoking experience. Because it provides a much less irritating smoking experience, hookahs are considered more pleasant by many smokers, and as a result, they may smoke for longer durations and inhale more deeply. A typical one hour session exposes the user to about 100-200 times the volume inhaled from one cigarette and produces far higher blood levels of nicotine because a session involves from 50 to 200 puffs, rather than the 5-10 minutes and 8 to 12 puffs it takes to smoke a cigarette. And studies show that degree of exposure is more than enough to cause nicotine dependence and lead to a cigarette habit.

Tobacco-free kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing tobacco use, reports that tobacco companies have a long history of creating new flavored products that appeal to kids and marketing them aggressively. Internal tobacco company documents released several years ago called this a "graduation strategy" meant to hook kids by starting them with milder tasting, more flavored substances. This trick is also used with a product called "Snus", a non-chew, no-spit oral tobacco that’s available in variety of flavors including peppermint, apple, and cranberry. Also increasingly popular with teens, Snus lets them stay under the radar at school and still get their nicotine fix because it’s stuffed between the lip and the gum.

Flavors—including apple, mint, banana, strawberry, and chocolate—also increase the appeal of e-cigarettes, battery-operated devices that generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine, and other chemicals that are inhaled by the user. Easily purchased on the Internet and readily available to kids without proof of age, e-cigarettes were recently slapped with an FDA warning after a lab analysis found that they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.

So how can we find out if our teens are at risk? The first step is to ask. Like me, you may be surprised at the answer.

For more information about talking to you kids:

Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports medical adviser

Take a look at some things you might not know about nicotine addiction, see how nicotine replacement therapy (subscribers only) can help you quit smoking, and for more news and research on teen health, sign up for our free Child & Teen Health e-mail updates.

Image: ABC News


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