Survey finds teens trending toward e-cigarettes

2014-12-16 11:16

More teens are trying out e-cigarettes than the real thing, according to the United States government’s annual drug use survey.

Researchers were surprised at how many 8th, 10th and 12th graders reported using electronic cigarettes this year, even as regular smoking by teens dropped to new lows.

Nearly 9% of 8th graders said they had used an e-cigarette in the previous month, while just 4% reported smoking a traditional cigarette, said the report being released Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health.

Use increased with age: Some 16% of 10th graders had tried an e-cigarette in the past month, and 17% of high school seniors. Regular smoking continued inching down, to 7% of 10th graders and 14% of 12th graders.

“I worry that the tremendous progress that we’ve made over the last almost two decades in smoking could be reversed on us by the introduction of e-cigarettes,” said University of Michigan professor Lloyd Johnston, who leads the annual Monitoring the Future survey of more than 41,000 students.

The survey didn’t ask about repeat use, or if teens were just experimenting with something new. But between 4% and 7% of students who tried e-cigarettes said they’d never smoked a tobacco cigarette, noted University of Michigan professor Richard Miech, a study senior investigator.

“They must think that e-cigarettes are fundamentally different,” Miech said.

E-cigarettes often are described as a less dangerous alternative for regular smokers who can’t or don’t want to kick the habit. The battery-powered devices produce vapour infused with potentially addictive nicotine, but without the same chemicals and tar of tobacco cigarettes.

E-cigarettes started appearing in the US in 2006, but this was the first year that the Monitoring the Future survey asked teens about them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that 10 states permit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed regulating e-cigarettes, including banning sales to minors; there is no timetable for final rules.

Other findings from the survey, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse:

» Dagga use appeared to level off after recent increases, with 6.5% of 8th graders reporting past-month use, 17% of 10th graders and 21% of 12th graders. Nearly 6% of 12th graders reported daily use.

» Fewer teens are trying synthetic dagga, highly dangerous drugs known by such names as K2 and Spice. About 6% of seniors said they had used fake pot this year, down from 8% last year and 11% in 2012.

» Abuse of prescription painkillers is dropping. Six percent of high school seniors reported using the narcotics without medical supervision in the past year, down from 9.5% in 2004.

» Nearly one in five 12th graders reported binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a row in the previous two weeks. That’s down from one in four high school seniors in 2009.

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