A recent survey conducted by federal health agencies revealed a decrease in the use of e-cigarettes among high school students in the United States. The survey showed that in the spring of this year, 10 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes, down from 14 percent the previous year. However, vaping rates among middle school students increased slightly from 3.3 percent in 2022 to 4.6 percent this year. Traditional cigarette use among high school students remained at a record low of under 2 percent.
Linda Neff, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed encouragement at the decline in high school vaping rates. Nevertheless, the increase in middle school students reporting tobacco use was noted as a concern.
One clear trend was that adolescents favor flavored e-cigarette products, with approximately 90 percent of student vapers using flavored options, particularly those with fruit and candy flavors. Brands like Elf Bar and Esco Bar, known for flavors like strawberry kiwi and watermelon ice, were popular among teenagers.
California implemented a ban on flavored tobacco products in December, which quickly led to a sharp decline in flavored e-cigarette sales. Sales fell by nearly 70 percent between December 2022 and June of this year, from around 575,000 vapes or refills to 179,000. The ban, combined with other state and local flavor bans and education campaigns, contributed to the lowest high school vaping rates in nearly a decade. Additionally, a few years ago, Juul, a previously popular brand, withdrew most of its flavored products from the market due to public pressure.
The survey, conducted in around 180 schools nationwide, was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. It focused on e-cigarette use in the past 30 days but did not include state-specific information.
The total number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes decreased from 2.5 million last year to 2.1 million this year. It’s important to note that survey results from the past few years may not provide accurate year-to-year comparisons due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
While federal officials regulating e-cigarettes see them as a smoking cessation aid for adult smokers, the products have become increasingly popular among non-smoking youth. Approximately 40 percent of e-cigarette users are under 25, and many had never smoked before using e-cigarettes.
E-cigarette health risks are well-documented. Studies have shown that e-cigarette chemicals are toxic, with adolescents who vape reporting increased symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and bronchitis. Concerns have also been raised about the impact of nicotine addiction on the developing brains of adolescents.
The Food and Drug Administration is moving toward a menthol cigarette ban and proposing significant reductions in nicotine levels in cigarettes, prompting tobacco companies to turn to e-cigarette sales to offset declining cigarette sales. However, the agency’s enforcement efforts have faced criticism for not effectively controlling the influx of illicit, candy-colored flavored vapes into the market.
The Food and Drug Administration has indicated that it will continue its enforcement efforts, including an import ban on Elf Bar and Esco Bar products and fines for retailers selling them. The agency has issued warning letters to manufacturers of these and other vape products.
While the survey results are a positive sign, the Food and Drug Administration and other health organizations acknowledge that more work is needed to further reduce youth vaping and tobacco use.
The combined overall use of tobacco products by middle and high school students barely declined, from 11 percent last year to 10 percent this year, suggesting that there has been little change in overall youth tobacco use. This situation remains a matter of concern for health organizations.