If you haven’t heard about vaping you clearly haven’t been spending much time with tweens and teens. Since 2007, when vaping was first introduced in this country, it has consistently grown in popularity. In 2014 it surpassed cigarettes as the preferred tobacco product among U.S. youth.
And the trend just seems to be accelerating with this year seeing the largest jump in vaping yet, following a 900% increase among middle and high school students between 2011 and 2015.
According to the study, which is called “Monitoring the Future” and is conducted by the University of Michigan using federal funds, vaping use increased dramatically across all age groups surveyed. For example, in 2017, 27.8% of high school seniors reported “any vaping” in the previous 12 months, whereas in 2018 that number swelled to 37.3%.
Vaping in teens has been growing
The largest increase was among high school seniors reporting use in the 30 days prior—in 2017, 11% reported having vaped nicotine in the 30 days leading up to the survey, while in 2018 that number nearly doubled to 20.9%.
The United States Surgeon General issued a warning about the “epidemic” of nicotine vaping among our nation’s youth. He warned that vaping is “not harmless”—that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive drug that can have harmful effects on the developing adolescent brain.
While preliminary studies appear to show that vaping is likely less harmful than cigarettes, that doesn’t mean vaping isn’t harmful at all. Nicotine users who exclusively vape still test positive for biomarkers of nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, volatile organic compounds, and metals. So we definitely need to be concerned about the increase in vaping in our teens.
That said, the Monitoring the Future study also revealed plenty of positive news across the board for our teens. In fact, the increase in vaping was really the only negative news to come from the report. Teen use of virtually all other substances is way down.
Four Positive Trends About Teens
Given the rise in vaping, it probably comes as no surprise that tobacco use has seen a major decline. Regular tobacco has hit its lowest point since the inception of the survey, with only 3.6% of 12thgraders smoking daily, compared to a 22.4% peak in 1998.
A similar decline has been seen with prescription opioid use. From 2017 to 2018, past-year use among 12thgraders dropped from 4.2% to 3.4%. 15 years ago, 10.5 % of high school seniors reported misuse of Vicodin, whereas in 2018 that number is all the way down to 1.7%, a decline of about 80%.
Among other drugs, marijuana remains the drug of choice, with 1 in 4 high school senior reporting having used it in the past month, and 5.8% reporting daily use. This number has been consistent over the last 2 decades, fluctuating in the 5%-6.6% range.
There has been a significant drop, however, in use among 8thgraders—a positive since recent research shows that earlier use predicts later use and the potential for cannabis use disorder.
According to the Monitoring the Future study, in 2013, 12.7% of 8thgraders reported using marijuana in the past year, and in 2018 that number fell to 10.5%. Teen use of other drugs like cocaine, synthetic cannabinoids, and MDMA are at the lowest levels ever.
Other welcome news from the study is that teen drinking has dropped precipitously. In 2013, 26% of high school seniors reported having been drunk in the previous month, while in 2018 that number was down to 17.5%.
Binge drinking (5+ drinks in a row) among 12thgraders has seen an incredible decline as well, down from 16.6% in 2017 and a scary 31.5% in 1998 to only 13.8% in 2018. This is news to celebrate, as these results are the lowest rates we’ve seen since researchers began asking these questions.
Of course, we’d love to see some of these numbers drop even lower, but nevertheless, the overall results of 2018’s study were incredibly encouraging. Maybe these kids really are going to be all right.