Monday, March 1, 2021

E-cigarette use by teens increases again


The number of middle- and high-school students in the US who smoke e-cigarettes more than tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to federal data released on April 16, the New York Times reports. About 13 percent of US teenagers now use the devices, some outside their school cafeterias during lunch.

Voxitatis reported in September 2013, based on data from the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey, a questionnaire given to more than 18,000 US middle- and high-school students, that e-cigarette use among students in grades 6–12 changed as follows:

  • 3.3% in 2011 → 6.8% in 2012: used e-cigarettes at least once
  • 1.1% in 2011 → 2.1% in 2012: used e-cigarettes within the last month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released that data in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

We didn’t report the number or any estimate in 2013, but the CDC reported, in the 2013 data set, that 2.9 percent of teens had smoked e-cigarettes at least once in the 30 days before the survey. A graphic on the Times suggests the number is slightly higher but still under 5 percent.

There’s also a bright side to the new data. A concurrent drop in cigarette use by this age group, reportedly from 16 percent in 2013 to 9 percent last year, represented the largest drop in cigarette smoking ever seen. Some researchers said teens may be using e-cigarettes as a way to help them quit cigarette smoking. But e-cigarettes still deliver nicotine, an addictive substance that harms developing brains.

“This is a really bad thing,” the paper quoted Dr Thomas R Frieden, the director of the CDC, as saying. “This is another generation being hooked by the tobacco industry. It makes me angry.”

Although e-cigarettes aren’t tobacco products and don’t deliver the tar and other chemicals, many of them proven carcinogens, that cigarettes do, they are most commonly sold by companies that also sell cigarettes. Plus, the majority of people in the US think they’re less harmful than regular cigarettes, according to a study out of the University of Illinois, Urbana, published in the August 2014 issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Among survey respondents for the study, “77% … were aware of e-cigarettes. Of these, 51% believed e-cigarettes were less harmful than cigarettes. Among those who were aware of e-cigarettes, younger, more educated respondents and current smokers (compared with former and non-smokers) were more likely to believe that e-cigarettes were less harmful.”

But just because people believe they’re less harmful doesn’t mean they are. In August, the World Health Organization launched a campaign demanding stiffer regulation of e-cigarettes and outright bans on indoor use, advertising, and sales to minors.

In its report, the WHO said there are 466 brands of e-cigarettes and the industry represents “an evolving frontier filled with promise and threat for tobacco control,” according to an article from the Reuters news agency. The WHO also wants e-cigarette makers to stop claiming that “vaping,” as it is known, helps people quit smoking tobacco products, at least until more scientific evidence supports that claim.

While evidence indicates that e-cigarettes are likely to be less toxic than conventional cigarettes, the use of e-cigarettes poses a threat to adolescents and the fetuses of pregnant women using them, the WHO report also said.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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