Recently released government data suggests that use of electronic cigarettes among middle and high school students has tripled between 2013 and 2014.
It was also discovered that more teenagers are using e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes and tobacco products. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, referred to the finding as “alarming” and “shocking.”
“What’s most surprising is how incredibly rapid the use of products other than cigarettes has increased,” Frieden said in an interview, adding that some e-cigarette smokers would undoubtedly go on to use traditional cigarettes. “It is subjecting another generation of our children to an addictive substance.”
Published late last week by the CDC, the findings were based on an annual survey of 22,000 students across the country.
Anti-smoking advocates argue that the increased usage can in part be blamed on cigarette ads that are unregulated, writes Brady Dennis for The Washington Post.
“These are the same images, the same themes and the same role models that the cigarette industry used 50 years ago,” said Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s the Marlboro Man reborn. It’s the Virginia Slims woman recreated, with the exact same effect. … This is not an accident.”
However, those who support the use of e-cigarettes maintain that it is too early to look at usage data. Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, said there is no data linking e-cigarettes to the use of traditional tobacco products. In fact, she argues that many teens who have tried e-cigarettes were already smokers, reports Mike Stobbe for The Denver Post.
“The CDC should really be jumping for joy at the fact that smoking rates are declining. This is a huge success,” added Michael Siegel, a professor and tobacco control specialist at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “Instead, they are using this as another opportunity to demonize e-cigarettes.”
While Siegel did say that minors should not have access to any tobacco products, he feels the data shows that students are using e-cigarettes in place of traditional products, which many call a success.
The data does show that tobacco use is on the rise, as almost 25% of high school students and about 8% of middle schoolers admit to having used a tobacco product at least once within the past 30 days. E-cigarette use increased from 4.5% to 13.4% between 2013 and 2014, and its usage tripled among middle school students.
Only black students reported using another tobacco product, cigars, more than e-cigarettes. In addition, hookahs, water pipes used for smoking a special type of tobacco, doubled in usage among middle and high school students.
During the same time frame, traditional cigarette use showed its lowest level in years, with only 9.2% of high school students and 2.5% of middle school students.