Electronic Cigarette Use Doubles Among Teenagers

The percentage of US middle and high school students who tried electronic cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012 according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

E-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, but they are operated by battery. An atomizer heats a solution of liquid, flavorings, and nicotine that creates a mist that is inhaled.

Using data from the National Youth Tobacco Study, the CDC report found that the percentage of high school students who had ever used e-cigarettes rose from 4.7% in 2011 to 10% in 2012. Ever use also doubled among middle school students, from 1.4% to 2.7%. Altogether, as of 2012 more than 1.78 million middle and high school students in the US had tried e-cigarettes.

The study, published September 6, 2013 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also found that 76% of current young e-cigarette users also smoked regular cigarettes. Some experts fear that e-cigarettes may encourage children to try regular cigarettes.

“The primary concern is whether e-cigarettes have the capability of introducing nonsmoking youth to cigarette smoking,” said Thomas J. Glynn, PhD, American Cancer Society's director of cancer science and trends and international cancer control. “Will we have new cigarette smokers out of this? A very clear message is that we are very much in need of FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) regulations that will limit access to e-cigarettes to youth.”

The FDA has announced it is taking steps to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, acting under its authority in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009. The FDA has the authority to require that e-cigarettes be labeled with their ingredients, so the user knows what’s in them. It can also tell manufacturers how they can promote e-cigarettes. For example, new regulations could prohibit e-cigarette promotion and sale to youth – which is already being done in some states. But such regulations are not yet in place.

According to Glynn, the young brain is more susceptible to the effects of nicotine than a fully developed brain. The younger a person begins using nicotine, the more vulnerable the user is to becoming a lifelong smoker. He said more data is needed to know whether those youth who are increasingly using e-cigarettes are moving on to using regular cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes were only invented 10 years ago and introduced in the US 6 years ago,” said Glynn. “We are in the infancy of learning about how they’re used and what’s in them.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Electronic Cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2011-2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. September 6, 2013.

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