Data show worrisome rise in youth vaping

Growth comes as officials report increase in vaping-related lung injuries


Around one in 8 U.S. high school seniors vape daily, according to a new federally funded survey. Such heavy use, the authors say, points to these kids being addicted to nicotine.

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The share of U.S. teens and tweens vaping in school bathrooms and nearly every other place continues to grow. These new data worry health officials. One in every four high-school seniors reported recent vaping, according to an annual survey of teen behaviors. Among sophomores, one in five reported vaping. For 8th-graders, one in every 11 had vaped. And a growing number of studies show vaping can be harmful, in some cases very harmful.

This growth in teen vaping comes as health officials are witnessing a growing outbreak of severe vaping-related illnesses and deaths. As of October 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reports 1,299 cases of lung injury linked to vaping since this summer. Of these, 15 percent of cases were under 18 years old. Another 21 percent were between 18 and 20. The cases come from 49 states, the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory. Of these, 26 people have died. Officials don’t yet know what substance or product is fueling the lung injuries.

The new student vaping stats come from Monitoring the Future. It’s a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens that is conducted by the Institute for Social Research. That’s at the University of Michigan. The survey is funded by the U.S. government. It asked vaping-related questions of more than 4,500 students in each of the three grades.

The new vaping data mark a 4.5-percentage-point rise among 12th graders. The rate is up 4.1 percentage points among 10th graders. Among 8th graders, there has been a rise of 2.8 percentage points over the past year. Richard Miech of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his team reported their findings September 18 in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Vaping trends in U.S. middle and high school students

The popularity of vaping continues to increase, as more 8th graders and high school sophomores and seniors report using e-cigarettes each year from 2017 to 2019.
E. Otwell, Source: R. Miech et al/New England Journal of Medicine 2019

“Unfortunately, I am not at all surprised by these increases,” says Susanne Tanski. She’s a pediatrician at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H. “Use [of e-cigs] among teens and young adults is incredibly common, frequent and leading to addiction,” she notes.

Most e-cigarettes vaporize a liquid that contains nicotine, an addictive drug. So this year’s survey for the first time attempted to quantify how many teens might be addicted to e-cigs. To get at that, it asked if students were vaping daily, or at least on 20 of the 30 days before taking the survey. Nearly one in every eight 12th graders had. So had roughly one in every 14 10th graders. Among 8th graders, one in every 50 said they had vaped.

Nicotine can alter how a teen’s brain develops. It can harm its ability to learn, to pay attention and to control impulses.

“We are seeing young people who are struggling with nicotine addiction,” Tanski says. In fact, that addiction “is more intense than we saw with regular cigarettes,” she says.

Aimee Cunningham is the biomedical writer at Science News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University.

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