- The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey of about 44,000 students reveals that the incidence of high school seniors vaping nicotine has nearly doubled since 2017 and represents the largest one-year increase in the use of any particular substance since the annual federally-funded survey began in 1975, with researchers estimating that an additional 1.3 million adolescents began vaping in the past year, The 74 reports.
- The increase in vaping nicotine seems to be tied to the rise of Juul, a popular e-cigarette maker that has recently come under fire for its apparent targeted marketing to youth. Though e-cigarette sales are restricted to adults in most states, 47.5% of eighth-graders surveyed reported that vaping devices were “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain.
- The same day the survey was released in December, Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued an advisory urging state and local policymakers to tighten restrictions on e-cigarettes and increase efforts to educate young people and parents about the risks of vaping.
While cigarette use is declining in schools, vaping is on a meteoric rise. While some proponents see this as a good trade-off, more evidence is emerging about the dangers of vaping. Fighting the trend is a harder battle for parents and educators than fighting traditional tobacco use, as vaping is trendy and has a tech-based appeal. It also does not yet have the decades of research and warnings behind it that cigarette use has, and many teens consider it a "safer" alternative to traditional tobacco products.
Marketing efforts by e-cigarette companies like Juul Labs, whether intentionally or not, have contributed to the problem. The Juul design mimics a USB-drive that can be easily hidden or disguised. And its fruity flavors appeal to students, though Juul is now scaling back these products under pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA recently launched "The Real Cost" campaign, designed to discourage e-cigarette use among teens. More schools are working to fight the problem, as well, through education campaigns and by placing warning posters in bathrooms, where vaping is most likely to occur.
School districts need to take on the challenge of providing valid information to students and parents and of discussing the issue openly so students can have their questions answered and their misconceptions addressed. It may be wise to bring in healthcare professionals armed with information to discuss the issue so students understand the motive is to protect their health, not just to enforce school rules. With the alarming increase in e-cigarette use among teens, the issue deserves immediate attention.