Public health experts are continuing to sound the alarm on the teen vaping epidemic, tying the 1.3 million increase in teen tobacco users from 2017 to 2018 directly to e-cigarettes. The rise has been so significant that it has wiped out any progress in declining youth tobacco use in recent years, according to a report published Monday.
The report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically singled out e-cigarette giant Juul as a contributing factor to the escalating rates.
“The bottom line is, we have considerably troubling news on the tobacco control front when it comes to kids,” said Brian King, a deputy director in the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and co-author of the report.
King said that the rise in vaping was the single biggest jump in teen use of a tobacco product since the beginning of the survey in 1999.
Vaping is the most common form of teen tobacco use
King and his colleagues analyzed data from the 2011-18 National Youth Tobacco survey to estimate trends among high school and middle school students and found that in 2018, 27% of high school students and 7.2% of middle school students said they used tobacco for one or more days in the month.
Among all tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and hookah, e-cigarettes – also known as vapes – were the ones most commonly used by teens; 3.05 million or 20.8% of high school students and 570,000 or 4.9% of middle school students said they vaped at least once in the previous month. Also, there were 1.5 million more teens using e-cigarettes in 2018 than in 2017.
The researchers also found no significant change in the current use of combustible tobacco products by teens, other than e-cigarettes, that drove the overall increase in youth tobacco use. Notably, no decline in use of other tobacco products was identified.
Before 2018, high school e-cigarette use had peaked in 2015 with 16% of students vaping. Use of e-cigarettes fell for the first time in the history of the survey by 29% in 2016, and the drop was sustained through 2017. However, in 2017-18, e-cigarette use jumped 77.8% among high schoolers and 48.5% among middle schoolers, erasing any previous declines.
Vaping epidemic tied to Juul
The report points out that the rise in vaping coincided with the increasing market popularity of Juul. “It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a sharp uptake in Juul sales,” King said. From 2016 to 2017, the sales of Juul increased by approximately 600%, a trend that continued through 2018.
And although King pointed out that Juul was not “the only game in town,” it has held the largest market share of any e-cigarette: more than 70%.
“We are committed to fighting underage use of vaping products, including JUUL products,” Juul spokeswoman Victoria Davis said in a statement Monday. She pointed out that the CDC’s data was initially presented last fall, and since then, the company has implemented a plan to reduce underage use; it “stopped the sale of flavored JUULpods to retail stores, enhanced our online age-verification, and [is] continuously working to remove inappropriate third-party social media content.”