One very promising health statistic in recent years has been the declining rate at which Americans smoke cigarettes. Hard as it is to believe, almost half (42%) of adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes in 1965. But more than half a century later, only 14% (34.3 million) were smoking in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite this 67% drop in the number of Americans who smoke, cigarette smoking remains “the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths.”

Tobacco use among American youth has dropped dramatically in half over the past decade — a welcome statistic in light of the fact that 90% of smokers admit starting during adolescence. Teenagers just don’t seem to be into smoking cigarettes anymore:

  • From 2011 to 2017, current cigarette smoking declined among middle and high school students.
    • About 2 of every 100 middle school students (2.1%) reported in 2017 that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days—a decrease from 4.3% in 2011.
    • Nearly 8 of every 100 high school students (7.6%) reported in 2017 that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days—a decrease from 15.8% in 2011.


Unfortunately, teenagers have found other dangerous ways of getting dosed with nicotine — one of the most addictive drugs on the planet. Last week, University of Michigan researchers issued their 2018 “Monitoring the Future” report on National Adolescent Drug Trends in 2018, revealing a surge in vaping:

Increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the U.S.


The percentage of 12th grade students who reported vaping nicotine in the last 3o days nearly doubled in just one year, rising from 11% in 2017 to 21% last year. That’s about one in five high school seniors! If you ask high school seniors whether they’ve tried vaping at least once, the numbers get worse, says Katelyn Newman:

MORE THAN A THIRD OF high school seniors in America reportedly vaped at least once in 2018, a new government-funded survey shows[…]

The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey […] found the use of any vaping device among high school seniors grew from 27.8 percent in 2017 to 37.3 percent in 2018.


16% of 10th grade students who were surveyed admitted to vaping in the last 30 days — doubling the number from 2017. The survey shows that even middle schoolers are getting into the act:

Among 8th grade students nicotine vaping in the past 30 days increased 2.6 percentage points from 3.5% to 6.1%.


But the biggest increase in vaping, where some devices look as innocuous as flash drives, is seen in high school:

For secondary students in grades 9 through 12 the increases in nicotine vaping translate into at least 1.3 million additional nicotine vapers in 2018 as compared to 2017.


Newman spoke with one of the researchers:

“This surge in vaping … is really historic. We’ve never seen anything like it before – it’s the largest increase of any substance that we’ve ever measured in the past 43 years,” says Richard Miech, a University of Michigan researcher and principal investigator for Monitoring the Future.

Miech says the survey results point to 1.3 million high schoolers who vaped nicotine in 2018 but didn’t in 2017, bringing the total number of nicotine vapers at the high school level to about 2.5 million.

“It seems like this increase in vaping holds the potential to reverse the hard-fought declines we’ve seen in cigarette smoking,” Miech says.


Nicotine isn’t the only thing being delivered by these electronic devices:

Marijuana vaping also increased in 2018. To date, this mode of using marijuana has been rare but it is becoming more common. In each grade the percent vaping marijuana in the past 30 days rose by more than half from 2017 to 2018.

Specifically, in 12th grade the percentage of youth who vaped marijuana within 30 days of the survey significantly increased to 7.5% from 4.9% the previous year. Similarly, in 10th grade marijuana vaping significantly increased to 7.0% from 4.3% the previous year. In 8th grade marijuana vaping also significantly increased and in 2018 it was 2.6% as compared to 1.6% the year before.


In another recent study published in November in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers asked students: “Have you ever used an e-cigarette device with a substance besides nicotine?” Karen Kaplan says that more than 2 million middle and high school students asked in the survey answered “Yes”:

Altogether, 8.9% of the students — or nearly 1 in 11 — selected this response. That included 12.4% of students in grades 9 through 12 and 4.5% of students in grades 6 through 8.

Extrapolating those figures across the country, the researchers calculated that 1.7 million high school students and 425,000 middle school students have vaped marijuana at least once.


That teenagers are gravitating to electronic devices in order to deliver nicotine and cannabis shouldn’t be surprising to anybody who knows one. All kids have heard about for a generation is how damaging smoking is to your health. And as more states legalize the use of medicinal and recreational marijuana, the message kids are getting is that weed isn’t so bad for you, especially if the cannabis product can be vaporized.

Parents need to be talking to their tweens and teens early and often about the dangers of nicotine and cannabis on young bodies and developing brains, and about the new electronic delivery methods being created to avoid detection, before all hopes and dreams of healthy children go up in vapor.


Read more about electronic cigarettes on The PediaBlog here.


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