The use of e-cigarettes — also known as vaporizers or pens — surpassed the use of traditional tobacco products of any kind among U.S. teens last year, according to data from the most recent Monitoring the Future survey.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that create an inhalable vapor by heating a liquid solution. They are available for purchase over the counter or users can go to “vape” boutiques that have been popping up all over the country.
The liquid solution may or may not contain nicotine and is available in many different flavors that likely appeal to young users. More than twice the percentage of 8th and 10th graders reported past month use of e-cigarettes compared to use of tobacco cigarettes (9% vs. 4% and 16% vs. 7%, respectively).
Among 12th graders, the difference was smaller; 17% said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days compared to 14% who reported using tobacco cigarettes. Traditional tobacco use among these grades has been declining since 1997.
E-cigarettes may serve as a point of entry into the use of nicotine, an addictive drug. The percentages of all youth in each grade who used e-cigarettes in the prior 30 days, but had never smoked a cigarette in their lives, ranged from 4% to 7% in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades.
Only 15% of 8th-graders think there is a great risk of people harming themselves with regular use of e-cigarettes. This compares to 62% of 8th-graders who think there is a great risk of people harming themselves by smoking one or more packs of tobacco cigarettes a day. Because e-cigarettes are relatively new, a comprehensive assessment of their health impact- especially their long-term consequences-has yet to be developed.
“Part of the reason for the popularity of e-cigarettes is the perception among teens that they do not harm health,” said Richard Miech, a senior investigator of the study.