A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, by middle and high school students in the United States has dropped for the first time since it started tracking the use of the product by young people.
The number of adolescents using e-cigarettes dropped from 3 million in 2015 to 2.2 million in 2016, according to data published Thursday in CDC’s journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
E-cigarettes are devices that heat up a fluid that contains nicotine to produce a vapor that users inhale. That’s why the use of e-cigs is sometimes called “vaping.”
CDC reported that e-cigarette use among teens dropped in 2016
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable diseases in the U.S., and the majority of adult cigarette smokers first try cigarettes before they are 18 years old, said the CDC. During the last three decades, cigarette smoking among young people has declined substantially. However, during 2011 through 2015, the CDC reported that electronic cigarette and hookah use increased among teenagers. In fact, in 2014, e-cigarettes surpassed traditional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product among teenagers.
“It’s actually quite remarkable from a public health standpoint,” said Brian King, deputy director for research translation in the CDC and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, which produced the new report, according to NPR.
After the increase in the use of e-cigarettes by young people until 2015, public health authorities were alarmed by the numbers, said King. Electronic cigarettes were first imported into the country from China in 2006. Although many people believe that e-cigarettes are less dangerous than tobacco cigarettes, serious debates have sparked regarding their actual benefits and harms.
Several public health researchers have said that e-cigs could help prevent some people from starting to consume tobacco cigarettes or help smokers reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke daily, or even get rid of the habit entirely.
CDC report found that one in three adults don’t know if e-cigarette vapor is bad for children
The CDC report also shed light on some concerning points. The CDC used data from a survey conducted in Oregon and found that 43.5 percent of eighth-grade students and 34.4 percent of 11th-grade students reported that e-cigarettes were the first tobacco product they used. Around 44.4 percent of eighth-grade students said they were active smokers, with e-cigarette being the go-to tobacco product.
A previous study conducted by the CDC also found that although the U.S. Surgeon General said that e-cigarette vapor might expose children to nicotine and harmful chemicals, one in three adults are not sure if the devices are dangerous to use around children.
“Although e-cigarette aerosol generally contains less harmful ingredients than secondhand smoke, it is not harmless, safer is not the same thing as safe,” said King, according to Reuters. “It’s important for users of these products, particularly parents, to know the dangers of secondhand exposure to e-cigarette aerosol and to protect kids from this preventable health risk.”
The CDC examined data from a survey of 4,127 adults aged 18 or older. The survey asked them to consider the potential harms of every electronic vapor products, including e-cigarettes, hookahs, hookah pens, vape pens and e-cigars.
Current e-cigarette smokers were nearly 18 times more likely than people who never tried the products to think the secondhand vapors posed no dangers to children, while former e-cigarette users were over seven times more likely to have this opinion, according to the report published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
The results also showed that compared with people who had never smoked tobacco cigarettes, current smokers were more than four times more likely to consider secondhand e-cigarette vapor harmless for children, while former smokers were around twice as likely to share this opinion. Men who answered the survey were more than twice as likely as women to think secondhand e-cigarette vapor was harmless for kids.
Drop is good news but ‘too many young people are still using e-cigarettes’
King attributed the new drop in e-cigarette use among teens to a variety of factors, such as high-profile public education campaigns about the potential harms of e-cigarette use. He said that the new restrictions on sales to minors also probably played a role in the decrease.
Although King believes the reported drop is good news, he noted that too many young people are still using the devices, as well as other tobacco products like typical cigarettes.
“We’ve made a lot of great progress, but we still have millions of youth that are using a product that is detrimental to their health,” said King, according to NPR.
The report highlighted that e-cigarette use among high school students dropped from 16 percent in 2015 to 11.3 percent in 2016, while e-cigarette use among middle school students fell from 5.3 percent to 4.3 percent.