Teenage e-cigarette users have started using a new technique with electronic devices called “dripping.” Dripping refers to dropping e-liquid, which usually contains tobacco products and flavoring directly onto the heating element. A survey of more than a thousand students who had used electronic cigarettes, showed that more than one-quarter of them had tried “dripping.”

According to the student surveys and websites encouraging electronic cigarette use, dripping produces a thicker cloud of vapor, makes flavors bolder, and intensifies the “throat hit.” Dripping also allows users to switch flavors more easily without changing e-cigarette tanks or cartridges.

Parents should be concerned about the nasty-sounding practice of dripping because of the reasons adolescents become interested in e-cigarettes. Research indicates that youth first try electronic nicotine delivery systems, known as ENDS, because they are attracted by the flavors and because they’re curious. One study reported that adolescents were more likely to try ENDS offered by a friend, if the e-cigarettes were flavored with menthol, candy, or fruit rather than tobacco-flavored. Adolescents also tended to believe the fruit-flavored liquids were less harmful than tobacco-flavored varieties.

While traditional tobacco use has declined among teens, e-cigarettes have become the most commonly used tobacco product among children, teens and young adults. More than half of Montana youth have tried e-cigarettes and 30 percent of high school students use them regularly, according to the 2015 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Electronic cigarette use among Montana high school students is almost double the national rate of 16 percent. That rate is particularly troubling, since 75 percent of young adults who use ENDS also report using traditional cigarettes.

Parents should ask their teenagers if they have tried dripping and let them know that the U.S. Surgeon General has advised that e-cigarettes are addictive and can deliver harmful chemicals. The tobacco companies have found a creative way to recruit new tobacco users to the nicotine addiction while many in the public think that electronic cigarettes are a safer alternative. The aerosol exhaled from ENDS has carcinogens, ultra-fine particulate matter, and volatile organic molecules in addition to nicotine. While ENDS lack the “tar” found in other tobacco products, that does not mean they are safe. No amount of tobacco is considered safe.

Young brains are more vulnerable to the drug nicotine than adult brains. The likelihood of nicotine addiction increases if tobacco products are used at an earlier age, and if they are used more heavily.

Parents should also know that e-cigarette cartridges can be filled with marijuana oil and heated like the tobacco products. The aerosol produced has far less odor than the distinctive smell of marijuana smoke.

Why not take the opportunity to talk to youth about tobacco in all its forms? Parents need to push back against companies that target young people with fruit and candy flavored products and ads that evoke feelings of independence and sexiness.

Claire Oakley, PhD, MHA, Director of Population Health Services at RiverStone Health, may be reached at 651-6462 or claire.oak@riverstonehealth.org.