Policy

Government survey: adolescents favor disposable, flavored e-cigarettes

FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2020 photo a woman holds a flavored disposable vape device in New York. A government study on adolescent vaping, released on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, finds more than 2.5 million U.S. kids were using some form of e-cigarette in 2022, suggesting there’s been little progress in keeping vaping devices out of the hands of teenagers. (AP Photo/Marshall Ritzel, File)

More than 2.5 million U.S. middle and high school students reported that they are using e-cigarettes, according to new government data published Thursday, with the majority of them choosing flavored, disposable e-cigarettes.

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 14.1 percent of high school students and 3.3 percent of middle school students said they vaped in the past 30 days.

The numbers appear to be down from pre-pandemic levels, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducted the National Youth Tobacco Survey, said not to compare the results to previous years.

“Due to changes in methodology, including differences in survey administration and data collection procedures in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to compare estimates from 2022 with those from prior NYTS waves is limited; differences between estimates might be due to changes in methodology, actual behavior, or both,” the CDC said. 

In 2021, the survey estimated there were about 2 million current e-cigarette users — 11.3 percent of students in high school and 2.8 percent middle school students.

Youth vaping was highest in 2019, with 5.4 million middle and high school students reporting use of e-cigarettes.

The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the results show the continuing challenge facing public health agencies as nontraditional cigarettes continue to be popular among teenagers.

“This study shows that our nation’s youth continue to be enticed and hooked by an expanding variety of e-cigarette brands delivering flavored nicotine,” said Deirdre Lawrence Kittner, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Our work is far from over. It’s critical that we work together to prevent youth from starting to use any tobacco product — including e-cigarettes — and help all youth who do use them, to quit.”

Electronic cigarettes were first introduced on the market as a “healthier” alternative to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, but it began to spread to young people, who were drawn in by sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette pods easily accessible in stores. Since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth. 

When asked about their “usual brand,” Puff Bar was the most common, followed by Vuse, Hyde, and SMOK. Juul was not among the favorite brands.

Anti-tobacco advocates said the FDA needs to act and remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market.

“It is unacceptable that over 2.5 million kids still use e-cigarettes when there is a clear solution to the problem: Eliminate all flavored e-cigarettes. The FDA has the power to do so, but it has repeatedly failed to act and left our nation’s kids at risk,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

But a vaping industry group said the CDC was obscuring the fact that youth e-cigarette use has declined. The 2022 data shows that even as students returned to school classrooms and resumed taking the survey around their peers, vaping by teens remained down.

“The CDC is concealing important aspects of the latest data on youth vaping, most significantly that high school usage is still down 50 percent from its peak in 2019,” said Amanda Wheeler, president of the American Vapor Manufacturers. “We will never solve the problem until the CDC starts being honest about the data.” 

The FDA is facing intense scrutiny for its handling of e-cigarette products, which need agency authorization to stay on the market.

The agency has denied millions of the applications it has reviewed to date, but critics say the process has been too slow and is allowing companies to skirt the rules.

“Unfortunately, the FDA has repeatedly missed deadlines set by a federal court and Congress to act, leaving flavored e-cigarettes widely available. To protect our kids, the FDA must swiftly complete its review of e-cigarette marketing applications and deny applications for all flavored e-cigarettes, including menthol-flavored products,” Myers said.

Tags e-cigarettes vaping youth tobacco

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