Nearly 5 million adolescents were using tobacco products last year, a number that is on the rise due to the skyrocketing popularity of e-cigarettes, according to a new report.
Federal health officials say the surge is threatening the progress they have made in preventing tobacco use and putting the health of millions of adolescents at risk.
“In the past year, use of e-cigarettes among our nation’s youth has reached unprecedented and epidemic proportions, and those who are using them are using them more often,” said Anne Schuchat, M.D., principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Researchers analyzed data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey in which middle and high school students were asked about current (last 30 days) use of various tobacco products. Findings were published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
In 2018, 27% of high school students and 7% of middle school students — nearly 5 million youths — used a tobacco product in the last 30 days, according to the study. High school use increased 38% compared to 2017, and middle school use increased 29%. Health officials placed the blame on e-cigarettes. Their use spiked 78% among high schoolers and 48% among middle school students last year, and they were the most popular product for the fifth straight year. Use of other tobacco products did not change significantly.
“The advertising will bring a horse to water, the flavors will get them to drink and the nicotine will keep them coming back for more,” saidBrian King, M.P.H., Ph.D., a deputy director in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.
Roughly 21% of high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes in 2018, 8% used traditional cigarettes, just under 8% smoked cigars, 6% used smokeless tobacco, 4% used hookah and 1% used pipe tobacco. About 11% used two or more tobacco products.
Among middle school students, 5% reported current use of e-cigarettes, 2% used traditional cigarettes, 2% used smokeless tobacco, 2% used cigars, 1% used hookah and less than 1% used pipe tobacco. About 2% used two or more products.
Dr. King said JUUL is the most common e-cigarette and comes in a variety of flavors that attract youths. The devices also resemble USB drives, making them easy to hide.
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and harmful to an adolescent’s developing brain. Numerous studies have found teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to go on to use conventional cigarettes.
In November, the Food and Drug Administration announced new restrictions on flavored e-cigarette sales that include limiting them to age-restricted locations, but the Academy has been calling for tougher measures.
The CDC recommends raising the minimum purchase age to 21 years and prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products. Officials said health care providers should be screening adolescents for tobacco use and warning them about the risks.
“The vast majority of adult tobacco users begin during adolescence, so this is a critical period in terms of intervention to ensure that we prevent kids from using all forms of tobacco products,” Dr. King said.