The use of electronic cigarettes by high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014 — a surprising boom that threatens to wipe out hard-won gains in the fight against teen smoking, a new government report says.
The percentage of American high school students who smoked traditional cigarettes on a regular basis dropped from 15.8% in 2011 to 9.2% in 2014, according to a study by a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But that drop has been more than offset by increases in e-cigarette use, which increased from 1.5% of high school students in 2011 to 13.4% in 2014, the study says.
E-cigarettes are now the most popular tobacco product used by both high school and middle school students, the federal data show.
As a result, overall tobacco use by high school students — including the use of cigars, pipes, hookahs, bidis, snus and other smokeless tobacco — has remained essentially flat, with nearly 1 in 4 students using some kind of tobacco product.
Among them is Dean Wilson, an 18-year-old who attends Polytechnic High School in Long Beach. Though he has tried regular cigarettes, he said he prefers “vaping” with e-cigarettes because they are new and trendy, and because they come in a variety of appealing flavors.
He also believes they are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes. “They supposedly have less nicotine,” he said.
Fellow student Jose Sanchez said he wouldn’t use any type of cigarette because he has asthma and smoking would interfere with his ability to play soccer. But he has certainly noticed his classmates using the electronic devices.
“They’re a lot more popular now,” he said. “People want to fit in.”
Move over tobacco: U.S. teens now prefer e-cigarettes, study finds
With their colorful designs and candy-store flavors, e-cigarettes — battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine solution into a vapor — seem perfectly designed to get kids and teens hooked on nicotine, many public health experts say. The Food and Drug Administration defines e-cigarettes as a tobacco product because they use nicotine.
Some experts fear e-cigarettes are becoming a “gateway drug” that makes young people more inclined to try traditional cigarettes, cigars or other dangerous products.
“They’re like cigarettes on training wheels,” said UC San Francisco tobacco researcher Stanton Glantz.
The new study, based on data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey and released Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, doesn’t prove that hypothesis. But it isn’t exactly reassuring either.
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