Adolescents’ rate of vaping skyrocketed this year while their use of other substances stayed steady or declined from 2017, a new study found.
Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released substance use data Monday from their annual Monitoring the Future study, which included a nationally representative sample of more than 44,000 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades.
About 21% of 12th-graders reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days, nearly double the rate last year.
Richard A. Miech, Ph.D.,Monitoring the Future principal investigator from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, called it a “startling increase” and said it is the largest for any substance in more than four decades of surveys.
“Given the ease and the concealability and the flavors, these all seem to be contributing to the great popularity of vaping among adolescents today,” he said.
Recent vaping also doubled for 10th-graders, from 8% to 16%, and rose from 3.5% to 6% for eighth-graders.
Researchers estimate about 1.3 million more high school students were vaping this year compared to last year. The number of students vaping marijuana also increased.
The vaping surge comes despite warnings from the Academy and health officials that e-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals and nicotine that is addictive and harmful to developing brains. Numerous studies also have shown teens who vape are more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes.
Cigarette smoking continues to decline with just under 8% of 12th-graders smoking in the past 30 days compared to a peak of 36.5% in 1997. Just under 4% said they smoked daily compared to almost 25% two decades ago.
“That means we’re going to have cohorts of young people who are going to have longer lives, less disease and it’s going to hopefully transfer to future cohorts that are coming through,” said Lloyd D. Johnston, Ph.D., Angus Campbell Collegiate Research Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
However, he also expressed concern that the increase in vaping could reverse some of the achievements in smoking reduction.
Alcohol use also was at its lowest this year. About 17.5% of seniors said they had been drunk in the past 30 days down from 33% in 1999. About 8% of 10th-graders and 2% of eighth-graders recently had been drunk.
About 14% of high school seniors, 9% of sophomores and 4% of eighth-graders reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks) in 2018, all of which have declined over the past five years.
Just over 3% of 12th-graders used narcotics other than heroin in 2018 down from 4% last year and from 9.5% in 2004. Heroin use among this age group was 0.4%.
The findings come despite an ongoing epidemic of opioid use. National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D., said use seems to increase for 18- to 24-year-olds.
“With illicit opioid use at generally the lowest in the history of the survey, it is possible that being in high school offers a protective effect against opioid misuse and addiction,” Dr. Volkow said in a news release. “We will be focusing much of our new prevention research on the period of time when teens transition out of school into the adult world and become exposed to the dangerous use of these drugs.”
Marijuana and other drugs
Marijuana use has been relatively steady in recent years. About 6% of high school seniors reported daily use, more than those who smoke cigarettes daily (4%).
About 22% of high school seniors, 17% of sophomores and 6% of eighth-graders used marijuana in the past 30 days.
Marijuana use at any time during 2018 was about 36% for seniors and 27.5% for sophomores. Eighth grade use was 10.5%, down from 13% in 2013.
Rates for other illicit drugs generally have continued to be very low and trend downward.