E-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) are battery-powered devices that heat and vaporize a liquid containing nicotine that is derived from tobacco and typically, fruit or candy flavors. In 2018, just over 1 in 5 high schoolers (3.05 million students) and 1 in 20 middle schoolers (570,000 students) reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
The considerable increase in overall youth tobacco use—the highest in seven years—reversed a recent decline in overall use, according to the report. In fact, 27% of high schoolers reported current use of any tobacco product (38% increase from 2017), and 7% of middle schoolers (29% increase) did so.
The data were collected for the annual report from March to May 2018; it is a cross-sectional, voluntary survey conducted by paper and pencil in schools aimed at determining the prevalence of past-month use and frequency of use of various tobacco products, including flavored products.
“These new data show that America faces an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which threatens to engulf a new generation in nicotine addiction,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. The rise prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to announce plans to issue an advanced rulemaking proposal seeking to ban menthol in traditional combustible tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars. More than half of youth smokers use menthol-flavored cigarettes; such a ban would take several years to advance.
In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said he would direct the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products to revisit the compliance policy for flavored e-cigarette products—except for mint and menthol flavors. Specifically, he is seeking to limit the sale of certain flavored e-cigarettes, allowing their sale only in age-restricted, in-person locations, such as vape shops, and if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification. Such restrictions would not apply to mint and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes. In addition, “we must evaluate our regulatory approach to flavored cigars,” he said.
The rise in youth e-cigarette use is likely led by the popularity of cartridge-based, or “pod mod,” e-cigarettes, such as JUUL, according the NYTS report. They are slim and shaped like a USB flash drive, and they easier to use and conceal than previous e-cigarettes. At the same time, they are high in nicotine content and come in candy and fruit flavors that appeal to youth.
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “E-Cigarette Use Rising Sharply.”