In 2014, more teens use e-cigarettes than traditional, tobacco cigarettes or any other tobacco product — the first time a U.S. national study shows that teen use of e-cigarettes surpasses use of tobacco cigarettes.
These findings come from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study, which tracks trends in substance use among students in grades eight, 10, and 12. Each year the national study, now in its fortieth year, surveys 40,000 to 50,000 students in about 400 secondary schools throughout the United States.
“As one of the newest smoking-type products in recent years, e-cigarettes have made rapid inroads into the lives of American adolescents,” said Dr. Richard Miech, a senior investigator of the study and principal investigator at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.
The survey asked students whether they had used an e-cigarette or a tobacco cigarette in the past 30 days. More than twice as many eighth- and tenth-graders reported using e-cigarettes as reported using tobacco cigarettes. Specifically, 9 percent of eighth-graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, while only 4 percent reported using a tobacco cigarette. In tenth grade, 16 percent reported using an e-cigarette and 7 percent reported using a tobacco cigarette. Among twelfth-graders, 17 percent reported e-cigarette use and 14 percent reported use of a tobacco cigarette.
The older teens report less difference in use of e-cigarettes vs tobacco cigarettes.
“This could be a result of e-cigarettes being relatively new,” said U-M’s Institute for Social Research’s Dr. Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the project. “So today’s twelfth-graders may not have had the opportunity to begin using them when they were younger. Future surveys should be able to tell us if that is the case.”
E-cigarette use among youth offsets a long-term decline in the use of tobacco cigarettes, which is at a historic low in the life of the study—now in its fortieth year. In 2014, the prevalence of smoking tobacco cigarettes in the past 30 days was 8 percent for students in eighth, tenth and twelfth grades combined. This is a significant decline from 10 percent in 2013, and is less than a third of the most recent high of 28 percent in 1998.
One important cause of the decline in smoking is that many fewer young people today have ever started to smoke tobacco cigarettes. In 2014, only 23 percent of students had ever tried tobacco cigarettes, as compared to 56 percent in 1998. Of particular concern is the possibility that e-cigarettes may lead to tobacco cigarette smoking, and reverse this hard-won, long-term decline.
“Part of the reason for the popularity of e-cigarettes is the perception among teens that they do not harm health,” Dr. Miech said.
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