Youth tobacco use in the United States fell to historic lows in 2016, leading public health experts to speculate that a smoke-free generation may be within reach.
While the number of high school students who use e-cigarettes is still too high, this rapid decline is a positive indicator that much youth e-cigarette use has been experimental and that the current offering of products may be less appealing to youth than feared. E-cigarettes remained the most commonly used tobacco product among youth for the third consecutive year, used by 11.3 percent of high school and 4.3 percent of middle school students.
"For smokers trying to quit, it can be a great public health benefit", said Nancy Rigotti, director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The figures, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that 11.3 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2016, down from 16 percent in 2015. At the end of the analysis, 20% of the high schoolers and 7% of the middle schoolers who participated in the analysis were using tobacco products in 2016 say the authorities. Among current tobacco users in 2016, 47.2 percent of high school students and 42.4 percent of middle school students used two or more tobacco products. That represented a reversal of a five-year trend of increased youth e-cig use.
"In particular, the FDA has issued more than 4,000 warning letters to brick-and-mortar and online retailers for selling e-cigarettes, cigars or hookah tobacco to minors since new youth access restrictions went into effect in August 2016", he noted. Among high school students, 11 percent said they used e-cigarettes, as did a little more than 4 percent of middle school students, according to the report. The drop in numbers was primarily because of the lessened number of e-cigarette users among middle school and high school students. "The bad news is that we still have 3.9 million youth in this country who are using tobacco products, and about half of them are using two or more products".
E-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance that can affect the developing teenage brain. E-cigarettes once thought safer are no longer considered any better.
Compared with people who never smoked traditional cigarettes, current smokers were more than four times more likely to consider secondhand e-cigarette vapor harmless for kids, and former smokers were about twice as likely to have this opinion, the study found.
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Adolescent cigarette smoking has been falling for many years, but the decline in e-cigarette and hookah use was more remarkable.
Good news and bad news from the CDC on youth smoking. "They are the most commonly used tobacco products among youth in the USA, with more than 2.2 million youths using them".
For middle school students, about 5 percent said they'd recently vaped in 2015.
Current e-cigarette users were nearly 18 times more likely than people who never tried the devices to think the secondhand vapors caused no harm to children, and former e-cigarette users were more than seven times more likely to have this opinion, according to the results published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
Several public health researchers have said that e-cigs could help prevent some people from starting to consume tobacco cigarettes or help smokers reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke daily, or even get rid of the habit entirely.
"Seeing this change in the data trend on e-cigarettes is a big deal", she said.