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A new government report warns that nearly five million middle and high school students currently use tobacco products, representing a sharp reversal of prior trends, which appears to be largely driven by the surge in popularity of teen vaping.
On February 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data from a joint National Youth Tobacco Survey for 2018, indicating that 1.5 million more students began vaping in 2018 than in 2017, erasing years of progress made in reducing youth tobacco use.
The findings were published in the CDC’s Vital Signs report, and suggest that more than a quarter of high school students and 1 in 14 middle school students used tobacco products within the 30 days before answering the survey last year.
According to the survey 20.8 percent of high school students reported vaping in 2018, compared to 11.7 percent in 2017. Middle school students vaping use increased from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent.
Electronic cigarette use was not just the main driver of increased teen use; it was the only driver, according to the findings. Teen use of all other tobacco products remained unchanged. The only increase, and thus all of the increase, was linked to vaping liquid nicotine products.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement on Monday, warning about the growing problem of teen vaping, which the FDA says has reached epidemic proportions and will likely lead to an increase in cigarette smoking later in life. He noted that a study published earlier this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open appears to dispel the myth that vaping prevents traditional cigarette use, instead finding that youths who vape are more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes later.
“As a society, we’ve made great strides in stigmatizing cigarette use among kids,” Gottlieb wrote. “The kids using e-cigarettes are children who rejected conventional cigarettes, but don’t see the same stigma associated with the use of e-cigarettes. But now, having become exposed to nicotine through e-cigs, they will be more likely to smoke.”
At a public hearing in late January, Gottlieb indicated that unless the trend in teen vaping changes, he may push for a full ban on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), like e-cigarettes.
Recently the Surgeon General issued a safety advisory warning the public about the long-term health risks and addiction teens face by taking up the habit.
Other studies have also shown recently that teen use of e-cigarettes quadruples their risk of smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes later in life. Teenagers also face other health risks related to toxic chemical exposure and respiratory side effects.
The FDA proposed restrictions on e-cigarettes last year, yet failed to include a full ban on flavored vaping products, which are widely believed to entice teens to try the products.
The FDA has the authority to ban e-cigarette sales and require vaping manufacturers to obtain formal approval through the FDA, but has not done so.
If progress isn’t made, Gottlieb warned, the entire category of e-cigarettes and vaping could be removed from store shelves. The agency wants to see a decrease in teen vaping rates over the next year.