Teen Tobacco Use Hits a Record Low, With Sharp Drop in Vaping

  • FILE - In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago. A large government survey released Thursday, June 15, 2017, suggests the number of U.S. high school and middle school students using electronic cigarettes fell to 2.2 million last year, from 3 million the year before. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The Washington Post
Saturday, June 17, 2017

Teenagers’ use of e-cigarettes fell sharply last year, while overall tobacco use declined to a new low, according to data that some antismoking advocates said could signal a turning point in the decades-long effort against youth smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual report on youth and tobacco found that 11.3 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2016, compared with 16 percent the year before. That’s the first drop since the CDC started keeping track of e-cigarettes in 2011.

In addition, just 8 percent of high-schoolers smoked cigarettes last year, while a little over 20 percent reported using “any tobacco product,” which includes cigars, hookahs, pipes, smokeless tobacco and small, leaf-wrapped cigarettes called bidis, as well as regular and e-cigarettes. Both those numbers are the lowest on record, the agency said.

“This is unimaginable, extraordinary progress,” said Matthew Myers, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, noting that almost 30 percent of young people smoked cigarettes in 2000. “This is a change of a cosmic nature that has the potential to dramatically impact lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and other problems.”

At the same time, he and other anti-tobacco advocates warned that the number of young people using tobacco products — 3.9 million high school and middle school students — was still much too high. They warn that progress could be derailed, especially if the Trump administration weakens the regulation of e-cigarettes and certain other tobacco products. It has already delayed enforcement of some tobacco regulations.

Robin Koval, president and chief executive of Truth Initiative, a nonprofit that focuses on tobacco use by young people, said the report suggests that the United States could be “well on our way to finishing smoking for good.” But she cautioned that the picture was very uneven among subgroups, with the high school smoking rate in West Virginia more than double the rate in California, for example.

She also said that the rapid decline in e-cigarettes among high schoolers suggests much of that use “has been experimental and that the current offering of products may be less appealing” than had once been feared. But she added that the rapid innovation in the e-cigarette industry “underscores the urgency for full implementation of FDA regulation” of the products.

The Food and Drug Administration asserted its authority to regulate e-cigarettes and some other products in 2016. But in early May, it delayed for three months the enforcement of some regulations that were to be imposed for the first time on e-cigarettes and cigars.

The delay came as the vaping and tobacco industries have launched a concerted effort to roll back the FDA regulations through both legislation and litigation. The e-cigarette industry, which includes small vaping businesses as well as the large tobacco companies, has said that the rules are onerous and will drive them out of business.