TODAY   |  September 06, 2013

Doctors worry e-cigarettes are a gateway for teens

More and more middle and high school students are using e-cigarettes, but federal health officials worry they could act as a gateway for smoking the real thing. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>> a new report out this morning is giving parents cause for concern. it shows the use of electronic cigarettes are on the rise among teens. nancy snyderman is our chief medical editor. she has the story. good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah. there is an aggressive marketing campaign. the use of celebrities and yes, increasingly our kids are turning to these cigarettes and a lot of parents and health officials are questioning are they safer and should we be happy that they're not smoking the real thing?

>> reporter: 16-year-old joshua short started smoking cigarettes six months ago as a way to relieve stress but he knows his habit is a bad one.

>> i was smoking and i wanted to kick that and that's when i received my first e-cigarette from a friend.

>> reporter: joshua is part of a growing trend among teens trading real cigarettes for electronic ones.

>> whether or not it's bad for me, i believe it's better than a cigarette.

>> reporter: according to data released thursday by the cdc nearly 1.8 middle and high school students tried them. that's more than twice as many kids as in 2011 . at least 15 states banned e-cigarette sales to minors but they are still available online.

>> they say nicotine isn't addictive.

>> reporter: the message used to be clear. but now a new message about smoking from celebrities like jenny mccarthy .

>> i'm jenny mccarthy and i finally found a smarter alternative to cigarettes.

>> reporter: they're marketed as an alternative to smoking. they deliver varying amounts of nicotine in a water based vapor without smoke or tobacco.

>> it seems cleaner.

>> reporter: the long-term health effects are still unknown and federal health officials worry that instead of helping kick the habit they could be a gateway to the real thing.

>> it's very likely that kids starting with e-cigarettes are getting hooked on nicotine and progressing to conventional cigarettes.

>> he's a consultant for njoy. he says they're meant for adult smokers only.

>> you get the feeling of nicotine that gives you the feeling of i'm satisfied now but without the carcinogens.

>> they plan to regulate them starting in october but until then it's the wild west and the real question about long-term safety, that's going to require studies for years to come. but right now they're here to stay and expect to see them up stick.

>> a lot of unknowns. thank you.

>> let's go to london now for the world premiere of a controversial new film about princess diana . this on the day her funeral was held 16 years ago. michelle kosinski is in london.