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The number of middle and high school students using electronic cigarettes is increasing, and it doesn’t look like e-cigarettes are replacing conventional cigarettes — they’re mostly supplementing them.
The data are self-reported (so the numbers are probably lower than reality) and come from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, given to students in grades 6-12. Here’s what it found:
- Among all students, the number who have ever used e-cigarettes increased from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012.
- Over that period, the number who currently use e-cigarettes increased from 1.1 percent to 2.1 percent.
- In 2012, among students who have tried e-cigarettes, 9.3 percent had never tried conventional cigarettes.
- Among current e-cigarette users, 76.3 percent also smoke conventional cigarettes.
- An estimated 1.78 million students had ever used e-cigarettes as of 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
The CDC is troubled by these numbers because the long-term health effects are still unknown and, as The New York Times reports, e-cigarettes aren’t yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“In youths, concerns include the potential negative impact of nicotine on adolescent brain development, as well as the risk for nicotine addiction and initiation of the use of conventional cigarettes or other tobacco products,” the CDC says. “This is really taking off among kids,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden told the Times.
The Times reported this industry response:
Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, which represents 28,000 stores, said the study “raises too many unanswered questions,” for the data to be used for policy making. It was unclear, for example, whether students who tried e-cigarettes were using them regularly or only once. He pointed out that selling them to minors is now illegal in many states.
That’s not how I read the data. The study includes categories for students who have tried e-cigarettes and for those who currently use them. In both cases, that number doubled between 2011 and 2012. According to The Associated Press, more than 20 states have banned sales to minors.
One e-cigarette executive, Lorillard CEO Murray S. Kessler, gave the Times a less equivocating take. “[Blue eCigs is] looking forward to a regulatory framework that restricts youth access.”
The CDC describes e-cigarettes as “battery-powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additives to the user in an aerosol.”