Teenage Vaping Rises Sharply Again This Year

WASHINGTON — The rate of vaping among teenagers continued to rise sharply this year, federal health officials said, suggesting that campaigns to curb e-cigarette use among minors are not working.

“It’s not good news at all,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which decided to release the new vaping numbers from an annual survey conducted by University of Michigan researchers three months earlier than scheduled. “There has to be a policy that would make it much harder for teenagers to be introduced to vaping.”
Vaping prevalence more than doubled in the grades surveyed, eighth, 10th and 12th, from 2017 through this year.

One in 4 students in the 12th grade reported that they had vaped within the previous 30 days this year, 1 in 5 in the 10th grade; and 1 in 11 in the 8th grade.

Students who had vaped nicotine during the previous 12 months and those who had ever vaped nicotine also significantly increased in each grade this year over last year, the survey found.

The results were issued at a time when the number of mysterious vaping-related illnesses — after patients reporting using e-cigarettes, THC-products or both — has continued to increase. Nearly 400 cases of vaping-related sicknesses have been documented in nearly three dozen states, with some patients suffering acute lung illnesses. And a seventh death linked to vaping was reported in California this week.

The startling popularity of teenage vaping and the sicknesses have alarmed public officials. After presenting similar numbers on teenage vaping to President Trump, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, and other officials said they would draft a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol.

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The leading e-cigarette maker, Juul Labs, and other vaping industry executives have said they are mulling whether to oppose part of any ban that would include mint and menthol, two top-selling flavors. But Mr. Azar pointed out that after many other flavors were pulled off the shelves, teenagers didn’t seem to stop vaping, but appeared to be shifting to mint and menthol.

“The flavor ban is reactive,” said Dr. Sharon Levy, an adolescent addiction expert at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s just a matter of time until companies figure out a way around it. We have to be more proactive.”

Dr. Levy said that just about every patient referred to her practice also vapes. Vaping has become normalized for teenagers, she added.

“Kids say that these devices have all the pleasures of cigarettes without the harm,” said Dr. Levy. “It’s like a cup of coffee for them.”

She is particularly worried about the amount of nicotine that her patients are absorbing. She is even seeing cases of nicotine toxicity.

The main results are similar to preliminary figures released from a separate survey last week by Mr. Azar. The early results from the National Tobacco Youth Survey indicated an increase to 27.5 percent from 20 percent last year in e-cigarette use among teenagers asked if they had vaped in the last 30 days.

In the survey released Wednesday afternoon, students were asked for the first time if they had vaped on at least 20 days within the last 30 days, underscoring concerns that teenagers are becoming addicted to nicotine and the effects that the substance can have on the developing brain. Twelve percent of 12th-graders said they had vaped that frequently,

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7 percent of 10-graders and 2 percent of 8th-graders.

“Current efforts by the vaping industry, government agencies, and schools have thus far proved insufficient to stop the rapid spread of nicotine vaping among adolescents,” the researchers said. “Of particular concern are the accompanying increases in the proportions of youth who are physically addicted to nicotine, an addiction that is very difficult to overcome once established. The substantial levels of daily vaping suggest the development of nicotine addiction.”

Dr. Volkow said she would like to see penalties for selling e-cigarette devices to minors, and a serious campaign to extend the stigma of smoking to e-cigarettes.

“We’ve done it in the past, we can do it again,” she said.

The spate of illnesses has prompted national public health experts to warn the public against vaping, especially young people, pregnant women and nonsmokers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said that if people have health concerns, they should consult a doctor before using e-cigarettes.

Jan Hoffman contributed reporting from New York.

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