Just as a new report indicates a big jump in e-cigarette use among U.S. teenagers, a conservative think tank is arguing against FDA regulation of the devices, claiming that it will do more harm than good when it comes to public health.

From 1.5 percent to 16 percent

The data published this week by the CDC and the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products from the National Youth Tobacco Survey show that three million middle and high school students are current users of e-cigarettes in 2015, up from 2.46 million in 2014. That amounts to16 of high school and 5.3 percent of middle school students using e-cigarettes in 2015, making the devices the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the second consecutive year. During 2011 through 2015, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5 percent to 16.0 percent among high school students and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle school students. Cigarettes are the second-most-used tobacco product among both middle and high school students.

“E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, and use continues to climb,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “No form of youth tobacco use is safe. Nicotine is an addictive drug and use during adolescence may cause lasting harm to brain development.”

A competitive advantage

The health risks of smoking, according to the National Center for Public Policy Research Risk, a conservative think tank, are exactly why the FDA should not be allowed to regulate e-cigarettes at the federal level. Under the “Deeming Regulations” the agency is expected to publish soon, all e-cigarettes that came on the market after February 15, 2007 would be removed from the market unless they win pre-market approval.

"This," warns Jeff Stier, Risk Analysis Director for the Center, "would give deadly old-school combustible cigarettes an almost insurmountable competitive advantage."

Stier said the regulation would take e-cigarettes away from former smokers who quit smoking by using the less harmful alternatives.

"This is exactly the opposite of what government should be doing, which is to create a regulatory environment that encourages smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, the dramatically less harmful way to get nicotine."

Smoking cessation and e-cigarettes

There are currently no research findings on whether or not e-cigarettes are useful in smoking cessation, and they are not approved by FDA to help people quit smoking. Because they are currently unregulated, the CDC says there's no way to know for sure how much nicotine or what other toxic chemicals they might contain.

Stier is urging Congress to “stop the FDA from killing off the most viable alternative to cigarettes for smokers” by changing the predicate date to the effective date of the new FDA rule, likely later this year." By changing that date, the House Appropriations Committee would give everyone “more breathing room.” He added that “it wouldn't completely reign in the FDA, because the FDA would still seek to hold e-cigarettes that go on the market after that date to innovation-stifling pre-market rules."

"E-cigarettes are innovative products. Health regulators should put reasonable safety standards in place, rather than put e-cigarettes at a disadvantage to deadly cigarettes, already entrenched in the market.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera America's Ali Velshi, Stier called e-cigarettes "a boon to public health" and a threat to the old way tobacco companies did business.