There’s been some good news coming out of this turbulent 2020. Vaping by U.S. teenagers fell dramatically this year, especially among middle schoolers, according to a federal report released Wednesday.
Experts think last year’s outbreak of vaping-related illnesses and deaths may have scared off some kids. But they believe other factors contributed to the drop, including higher age limits and flavor bans.
In a national survey that ran from last fall to spring 2020, just under 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students said they were recent users of electronic cigarettes and other vaping products. That marks a big decline from a similar survey the previous year. That one found about 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students had recently vaped.
The new survey suggests that the number of school kids who vape fell by 1.8 million in a year, from 5.4 million to 3.6 million, officials say.
The national survey is conducted at schools each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It usually involves about 20,000 middle and high school students. The survey asks students if they had used any vaping or traditional tobacco products in the previous month. The survey was cut short this year as schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. But that may actually influence kids even more in the healthier direction.
With fewer opportunities to gather in groups, teens experience less social pressure to participate in harmful activities that a few of their peers may encourage. Federal health officials believe measures like public health media campaigns, price increases, and sales restrictions deserve some credit for the vaping decline. The age limit for sales in now 21. But as powerful as those conditions may be, peer pressure and the desire to “look cool and fit in” are often more powerful than facts among young people.
Kenneth Warner is a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s school of public health and a tobacco control expert. He says the percentage drop in teen vaping was larger than expected: “This does look like a very substantial decrease in a single year, and it’s very encouraging.” But he says it will be critical to watch whether teen smoking begins rising again as fewer teens vape.
(Vaping devices on display at a store in New York. In the wake of changes in the industry, teen vaping in the United States took a sharp drop. AP/Mary Altaffer)