More than 1 in 4 teens have used e-cigarettes, vapes

Data released Thursday reveal a big increase in e-cigarette use by high school students, with more than a quarter saying they vape despite a lung disease epidemic and widespread public health outcry.
Data released Thursday reveal a big increase in e-cigarette use by high school students, with more than a quarter saying they vape despite a lung disease epidemic and widespread public health outcry.

The number of U.S. high school students who have used an e-cigarette device is growing and local leaders said more has to be done.

More than 27 percent of high school students said they have used an e-cigarette device in the past year, which is up from one in five last year, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released this week.

And more than 50 percent of high school students said they had tried tobacco products and 31.2% — 4.7 million — reported being current users.

E-cigarettes are the smoke of choice for most teens, with more than one in four high school students saying they smoke the vaping products that deliver nicotine without burning tobacco. The most popular e-liquid brand JUUL makes pods that have as much nicotine as an entire pack of traditional cigarettes.

“All of us are seeing an increase,” said Sgt. Don Wilson, the DARE officer at Springboro schools. “It’s enough that I’m hoping every district is pushing out education in their classroom.”

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New this year, Wilson has added a class day specifically dedicated to talking about vaping, starting conversations with students, something he said he also encourages parents to start with their teens.

“The whole idea is we’re giving you this knowledge. We’re giving you the power to make a better decision,” Wilson said. “Do you want to be that guinea pig that all the sudden you’ve got this huge generation that’s going to have health issues?”

Other schools like Lebanon have increased the seriousness of using e-cigarettes in their disciplinary policies after finding underage students with e-cigs and related products in classrooms, at football games and outside after school.

Public Health Montgomery County/Dayton had a tobacco cessation program long before e-cigarettes became popular, but now the organization adds an emphasis on e-cigarettes, especially when talking to schools and other youth groups, said spokesman Dan Suffoletto.

“Many students are encouraging other students to try the vaping products. That is increasing the number of people who are using it,” Suffoletto said. “It’s very important that youth do not starting using vaping products.”

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The nicotine is highly addictive, and research shows that most adult smokers started before 21, Suffoletto said. More teen e-cigarette users will likely mean more adult smokers, he said.

The chemicals can also impact brain development in youth, Suffoletto said.

The median age of a vape smoker in Ohio is 24. While no Ohioans have died from lung issues, 81 have suffered severe lung damage.

But the vaping industry maintains that the lung injuries come from products containing vitamin E acetate. The vitamin E is not found in e-liquids sold at legitimate vaping shops, said James Jarvis, president of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association.

Instead, the vitamin E is found in black market liquids that are tampered with after sale or made using THC, Jarvis said.

Meanwhile, Jarvis said most kids aren’t smoking e-cigarettes for the flavor, but rather because of the high content of nicotine found in JUUL pods, but not all e-liquids.

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About 22% of middle and high school students said they started smoking e-cigarettes because of the flavors. Majority, 55.3%, said they started because they were curious and 30.8% said they had a friend or family member who used them.

“As we as an industry have stated all along, flavors are not the issue as far as youth,” Jarvis said. “Every adult that’s been a kid knows, kids are going to try stuff just because they’re kids.”

One of the biggest movements on the agenda of many trying to curb the epidemic is preventing access. Lawmakers in Ohio recently raised the purchase age of e-cigarettes and related products to 21.

Nationally, President Donald Trump has called for a ban of flavored e-liquids. But Jarvis said vapor shops, including many that are struggling from the national discussions, don’t sell to kids. Stores that aren’t vaping specific are more likely not to ID, he said, and many kids are finding vapes online.

“Any kid or youth with a credit or debit card, or if they go to a big box retailer can get one of those prepaid cards, and they get on the internet and the most verification they have is to click this box if you’re over 21,” Jarvis said. “People just need to start IDing. It’s the state law.”

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