E-cigarette use, interest in flavors remains high among youth



One in four high school students and one in 10 middle school students have recently used e-cigarettes, the most frequently used tobacco product among youth, according to new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teenage boys smoking electronic cigarettes diego_cervo/Thinkstock

Just over half of high school students and about a quarter of middle school students have ever tried a tobacco product, and more than a third of students have ever tried an e-cigarette, according to results from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey. These results were published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Dec. 6.

Adolescent cigarette smoking rates have continued their decline, hitting their lowest rate ever in 2019, but e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” has continued to increase. E-cigarette use surpassed that of all other tobacco products in 2014 and has remained the most common—as well as the least likely to be perceived as harmful, researchers reported.

“Although most current youth tobacco product users are not daily users, estimates of frequent e-cigarette use among high school students were comparable to those observed for cigarette and smokeless tobacco product users in 2019,” wrote Teresa W. Wang, PhD, of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and associates at the CDC and Food and Drug Administration. “Youth use of tobacco products in any form is unsafe, regardless of whether the products are smoked, smokeless, or electronic.”

The high prevalence of e-cigarette use was no surprise to Karen Wilson, MD, chief of the division of general pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital, New York, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Tobacco Consortium.

“It also fits with what we’re seeing anecdotally,” Dr. Wilson said in an interview. “We hear the statistic that 30% of high school students are using them, but high school students will say it’s much more than that.”

It’s therefore important for physicians to be proactive in talking to youth about these products. “They should absolutely be screening for vaping and know all about the different products,” including JUUL, Suorin, nicotine toothpicks, and candies and other products, Dr. Wilson said. “Pediatricians need to be asking their teenagers open-ended questions about what are kids using now.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has resources available to help pediatricians and families of youth using e-cigarettes and vaping devices, she added.

Main findings

The researchers reported data from the annual, cross-sectional National Youth Tobacco Survey, administered to U.S. students in public and private schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The results were divided into middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12) from 251 participating schools between February 2019 and May 2019.

The survey has been done using pencil and paper questionnaires since it began in 1999, but this year’s surveys were digital for the first time. Among the 19,018 questionnaires completed (student response rate 85.3%), 8,837 were middle school and 10,097 were high school. The weighted analysis of results represents 27 million students: 11.9 million in middle school and 15 million in high school.

More than half (53.3%) of high school students reported ever having tried a tobacco product, and 31.2% reported having used one in the past 30 days. In middle school, 24.3% of students reported ever using a tobacco product, and 12.5% have used one in the past month.

Tobacco products include cigarettes (traditional/combusted), electronic cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookahs, pipe tobacco, and bidis, which are small brown cigarettes wrapped in leaves. Among the electronic tobacco products mentioned in the survey were NJOY, Blu, Vuse, MarkTen, Logic, Vapin Plus, eGo and Halo.

The most common product for youth to try was e-cigarettes, which 35% of middle and high school students had ever tried. Just under a quarter of students (23%) had used a tobacco product in the past month, and e-cigarettes were again the most commonly used overall by that group, cited by 20% of recent users. Cigars (5.3%), cigarettes (4.3%), smokeless tobacco (3.5%), hookahs (2.6%) and pipes (under 1%) were used much less frequently.

Frequent use, defined as at least 20 of the previous 30 days, was most common among youth using smokeless tobacco (34.1% of current users) and e-cigarettes (30.4%) and least common among cigar smokers (16.8%). Among those currently using any tobacco product, 24.7% said they had cravings for a product within the past month, and 13.7% wanted to use it within a half hour of waking up.

More than half of those who currently used any tobacco products (57.8%) were seriously considering quitting, and a similar proportion (57.5%) had stopped using all tobacco products for at least 1 day in an attempt to quit.

“Many [adolescents] will tell you they will use it until they don’t have the availability of getting it,” Dr. Wilson said. “The problem is that they’re becoming so addicted to the high-nicotine products that they’re going farther and farther out of their way to try to get these products so that they can satisfy their addictions.”

Policies restricting access, such as increasing the age for sales to 21 and increasing taxes on products, can reduce tobacco use among youth, Dr. Wilson said.

“It will encourage teenagers to get help for their addiction by using FDA-approved devices or nicotine replacement therapy and behavioral interventions rather than relying on an unproven and potentially dangerous product,” she said.

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