Health Care

CDC: 2.5M middle and high school students used tobacco products last year

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About 2.55 million combined U.S. middle and high school students said they have used tobacco products within the past 30 days, according to the government’s National Youth Tobacco Survey.

More than 5 million high school students and more than 1 million middle schoolers reported using tobacco products at any time in 2021, and the majority said they received the product from a friend.

Those monthly numbers are down considerably from the 4.47 million tobacco users reported in 2020, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration said this year’s figures shouldn’t be compared to previous years because the survey was conducted online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than on school campuses.

The CDC said the survey shows that youth tobacco use “remains a serious public health concern.”

“Youth use of tobacco products is unsafe in any form — combustible, smokeless or electronic,” Karen Hacker, director of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a statement. 

Electronic cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among youth since 2014, and were by far the most common tobacco product being used among both middle and high school students in 2021.

Students who said they smoke traditional cigarettes were reported at historically low levels, with just 1.9 percent of high school students and 1 percent of middle school students reporting such usage.

The survey shows the continuing challenge facing public health agencies as nontraditional cigarettes continue to be popular among teenagers.  

Among students who had ever used e-cigarettes, peer use and curiosity were the most cited reasons for first trying them in 2021. However, among students who currently used e-cigarettes, the most cited reasons for use were feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression and the “high or buzz” associated with nicotine use.

The survey found tobacco use was higher among those identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual, at 14 percent, compared to those who considered themselves to be heterosexual, at 8 percent. 

Tobacco use also was higher among students who identified as transgender, at 19 percent, compared to cisgender students, at 8 percent.

Approximately two-thirds of students who currently used tobacco products said they were seriously thinking about quitting. However, factors that might continue to promote tobacco product use among American youths, such as the availability of flavors, access to tobacco products, exposure to tobacco product marketing and misperceptions about harm from tobacco product use, remained prevalent in 2021, the survey found.

“It’s revealing that about two-thirds of current youth users expressed a desire to quit tobacco products and that three-quarters of youth reported having seen or heard a tobacco prevention ad,” Mitch Zeller, director of Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement. “But the 2021 use data are still concerning and will be valuable for policymakers and educators committed to protecting the next generation from tobacco-related disease and death.” 

Tags CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Cigarettes e-cigarettes Electronic cigarette Electronic cigarettes Flavored tobacco Tobacco Youth smoking

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