U.S. youth appear more aware of the dangers of e-cigarettes than they were just five years ago, according to a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The findings suggest that efforts to educate adolescents about e-cigarettes may be working and point to groups of adolescents who may need additional support.
Joseph L. Rapp, M.P.H., Karen M. Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai analyzed data collected between 2015 and 2019 from the National Youth Tobacco Survey. This survey is given to U.S. middle- and high-school students annually.
In addition to assessing the number of students who had smoked cigarettes or used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, the researchers specifically focused on how the students responded to the following two survey questions:
- “How much do you think people harm themselves when they smoke e-cigarettes some days, but not every day?” (Response options: no harm, a little harm, some harm, and a lot of harm)
- “Do you believe that e-cigarettes are less, equally, or more addictive than cigarettes?” (Response options: less addictive, equally addictive, more addictive, I have never heard of e-cigarettes, and I don’t know enough about these products)
The sample included 83,779 students (average age 14.5 years). While there was a slight drop in the percentage of students who reported smoking cigarettes over time (5.78% in 2015 compared with 3.93% in 2019), there was a significant increase in the percentage of students who reported using e-cigarettes during that period (10.77% in 2015 compared with 19.80% in 2019).
Students’ perceptions of the harm associated with vaping increased over time: In 2015, 23.58% believed occasional e-cigarette use caused a lot of harm compared with 32.21% in 2019. Similarly, students’ perception of the addictiveness of e-cigarettes compared with cigarettes also increased: In 2016 (the first year this question was asked), 7.26% said they considered e-cigarettes to be more addictive than cigarettes; by 2019, 26.31% of students considered e-cigarettes to be more addictive.
Female and non-White students were more likely to think that e-cigarettes were at least as addictive as cigarettes but also reported less knowledge about e-cigarettes, the researchers noted. They also found that minority students were more likely than their non-Hispanic White peers to perceive that intermittent use of either E-cigarettes or cigarettes was not as harmful as daily use.
“Concerted efforts should be made to expand education about e-cigarettes and should be combined with stringent regulations on their sale and advertisement,” they concluded.
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “FDA Bans Some Flavored E-Cigarettes, but Advocates Say Policy Falls Short.”
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