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Cigarette smoking among teens down, but e-cigarette use up

Teen smoking of traditional tobacco cigarettes in the United States reached a new low of eight percent in 2014, but the data from the annual “Monitoring the Future” report indicate strong interest in e-cigarettes among teenagers. It notes e-cigarette use among 8th and 10th graders at double the rate of tobacco cigarette use (8.7 percent and 16.2 percent) and at nearly one in five (17.1 percent) for 12th graders. “Monitoring the Future” is a study conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“We are thrilled to see youth make significant progress to #FinishIt with these remarkable declines in the use of combustible cigarettes – products that will prematurely kill one out of every two users,” said Robin Koval, CEO of Truth Initiative. “But the ‘Monitoring the Future’ data present a very concerning twist in the story of tobacco prevention as this significant reduction in teen smoking is offset by a new source of nicotine addiction in e-cigarettes. We are also troubled to see use of other lethal, unregulated, combustible products like flavored little cigars being used at rates virtually equal to cigarettes.”

“While e-cigarettes may offer real benefits for those trying to quit, the number of teens reporting 30-day past use of e-cigarettes is a cause for concern,” said David B. Abrams, PhD, executive director, The Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative. “We must remember that nicotine is not for kids because of its addictive nature and negative impact on adolescent brain development. It is worrisome when these products are not yet regulated for safety, are easy to obtain and are being marketed in ways that make them especially attractive to young people.”

E-cigarettes are currently unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Without safety or manufacturing standards, e-cigarettes vary widely and manufacturers face few limits on product claims. The study authors suggest that part of the reason for the popularity of e-cigarettes may be the perception among teens that they are less risky than cigarettes or cigars. While e-cigarettes have no carbon monoxide and fewer cancer causing chemicals than cigarettes, nicotine and the chemicals in e-cigarette vapor are not harmless. So it is very worrisome that past 30-day e-cigarette usage among never smokers ranged from four percent to seven percent in 8th, 10th and 12th grades.

Between 2013 and 2014 the percentage of students reporting any cigarette smoking in the prior 30 days decreased among all three grade levels, with significant declines among older students. This finding is especially heartening as the age of initiation of tobacco use has been trending up in recent years. Specifically:

  • 8th grade: rates decreased from 4.5 percent to 4 percent
  • 10th grade: rates decreased from 9.1 percent to 7 percent
  • 12th grade: rates decreased from 16.3 percent to 14 percent

The low prevalence rates for combustible cigarettes among 8th, 10th and 12th graders is a proof point on the progress we are making as a nation in reducing tobacco use among America’s young people. Investment in bold, attention-getting public education campaigns such as the FDA’s “The Real Cost” youth-tobacco prevention campaign and Truth Initiative’s own truth® “Finish It” campaign, as well as the “Tips From Former Smokers” tobacco cessation advertising from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serve to counter the billions of dollars spent by the tobacco industry every year to make traditional cigarettes appear attractive.

Tobacco use is one of the most difficult public health challenges of our time. Nearly half a million Americans die from tobacco use, yet millions of smokers continue to light up each day, including our nation’s youth. The Surgeon General has underscored that nearly all tobacco use begins during adolescence putting 5.6 million children alive today at risk of premature death from tobacco. That is why it is critical to keep young people from starting to smoke.

The “Monitoring the Future” report reflects data from a survey of 40,000 to 50,000 students in approximately 400 secondary schools in the United States and includes smoking rates and trends among 8th, 10th and 12th grade students. In 2014 the prevalence of smoking tobacco cigarettes in the past 30 days was eight percent for student in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades combined. This is a significant decline from 10 percent in 2013, and is less than a third of the most recent high in 1998.

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