More than 6 million middle and high school students said they have recently used tobacco products, posing a significant challenge for public health agencies as nontraditional cigarettes gain in popularity among teenagers.
The number of kids who said they smoked traditional cigarettes in the previous 30 days fell to a record low in 2019, but other tobacco products like e-cigarettes are taking their place, according to federal data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The survey found that about 1 in 3 high school students (4.7 million) and about 1 in 8 middle school students (1.5 million) are tobacco users, compared with a total of 3.6 million in 2018.
For the sixth year in a row, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school and middle school students.
CDC researchers previously found that an estimated 27.5 percent of high school students, and 10.5 percent of middle school students, said they had used e-cigarettes in the past month.
More than 55 percent of students reported using e-cigarettes only, but other tobacco products used by students included cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookahs and pipe tobacco.
“Our nation’s youth are becoming increasingly exposed to nicotine, a drug that is highly addictive and can harm brain development,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. “Youth use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe.”
The findings also show that many of the young people who tried e-cigarettes for the first time said they did so because they were curious. Witnessing their family or friends try e-cigarettes, as well as interest in flavors such as fruit, mint, candy or chocolate were other reasons.
In addition, tobacco advertising played a huge role. Nearly 9 in 10 middle and high school students reported exposure to tobacco product advertisements or promotions from at least one source.
The report recommended that “comprehensive and sustained implementation of evidence-based tobacco control strategies, combined with FDA’s regulation of tobacco products, is important for reducing all forms of tobacco product use among U.S. youths.”
President Trump initially said in September that his administration would rid the market of e-cigarette flavors like mint and fruit that are appealing to kids and fueling a youth vaping epidemic. But a new policy has not been announced and it’s not clear if the administration will implement a flavors ban.