E-cigarette use among adults in Alaska is on the rise as tobacco use is falling, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.
An Alaska Division of Epidemiology bulletin released Thursday said e-cigarette use among Alaska adults rose from 1 percent in 2010 to 4 percent in 2013, the latest data available.
That increase comes as the percentage of adult tobacco smokers is down statewide, from 24 percent in 1996 to 21.9 percent in 2013.
The data is part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing survey of Alaska adults.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that convert flavored liquids -- often containing nicotine -- into an inhaled aerosol, usually referred to as "vapor." In Anchorage, "vape" shops appear to be on the rise, though exact numbers have been hard to track.
Andrea Fenaughty, deputy section chief for chronic disease prevention and health promotion under DHSS, said the increase in e-cigarette use might seem small, but it represents a significant increase over a short period of time.
"We're going from hardly anyone reporting use to a small but still larger percent of the population reporting use," she said.
She said an increase in marketing appears to be contributing to the increase in use. Fenaughty noted that flavors like "gummy bear" and "snickerdoodle" are geared toward young people.
She said with no conclusive studies, the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are unclear. Many have turned to the devices for tobacco cessation, but Fenaughty said the bottom line is that the Food and Drug Administration has not recommended the devices for such use.
Other findings from the survey include:
• 5 percent of women use e-cigarettes, compared to 3 percent of men; 7 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 reported using e-cigarettes.
• E-cigarette use was not significantly associated with any region of the state, though the highest use was reported in the Anchorage and Gulf Coast regions.
• 85 percent of e-cigarette users also reported being current cigarette smokers; 72 percent reported using e-cigarettes in place of combustible cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool or when cigarette smoking was not allowed.
According to a separate bulletin also released Thursday, there were nine reports to poison control centers of Alaska children exposed to the liquids in 2013 and 2014. None were reported in the years prior. The department began keeping track of e-cigarette exposures in 2010.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing