The use of electronic cigarettes or vaping devices among teens has skyrocketed from about 1% of high school students using them in the past 30 days in 2011 to 16% of 12th graders using them during the same time period today. Teens now use e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product, including combustible cigarettes. But not all those students are using the devices for the nicotine factor; about two-thirds of the students are using them just for the flavor, at least according to a survey.
Approximately 15,000 students in grades 8, 10, and 12 were part of a National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) 2015 Monitoring the Future survey that asked about their vaping habits during the past 30 days. The students were also asked to report on what substances they inhaled and were given several choices to chose from, including “Nicotine,” “Just flavoring,” and “Don’t know,” as well as others. Students were also asked about their cigarette consumption during the same time period.
Of the 3,837 students “who reported some vaping experience,” “between 65% and 66% of students in each grade reported vaping ‘just flavoring’ the last time they vaped.” And for those who vaped in the past 30 days, between 59% and 63% reported they vaped “just flavoring.” Grade level reporting was at 20% for 12th and 10th grade students and 13% of 8th grade students reporting they vaped nicotine.
The survey results are interesting, to say the least, as well as misleading. Some e-liquids that claim to be nicotine-free have been found to still contain nicotine. The survey result were self-reported by the students, but the only way to tell if these students are vaping nicotine is through a drug test to detect cotinine in blood, urine or saliva. Currently, we will have to wait for the manufacturers to label their ingredients per the new FDA requirements to know if the product is really nicotine free.
One researcher questioned the tactics being used “to keep teens from using e-cigarettes and other vaping products,” but he also added that the research on e-cigarettes is in its infancy and it will be “a decade or more before the health effects of vaping are known.” However, what he did find was that “use of e-cigarettes is associated with greater uptake of regular cigarettes by teens,” even those “who reported having no interest in smoking cigarettes.”
Teens today are no more aware of what they are inhaling than their parents were when they smoked cigarettes. We can research all the reasons why youth are using these products, but the bigger question is why aren’t we doing more to keep these products out of their hands in the first place?
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