The use of electronic cigarettes has spiked among middle- and high-school students over the last few years, undermining a decades-long effort to stem smoking among young Americans, officials said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, released Sept. 5, the number of U.S. middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. The percentage of high school students who reported ever using an e-cigarette rose from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10.0 percent in 2012. In all, 1.8 million middle- and high-schoolers tried the cigarettes last year.

“The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug. Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes are battery-powered tubes that simulate the effects of smoking via a nicotine- and additive-laced vapor. Though some e-cigarettes are marketed as a means to quit smoking, there has been little scientific research into their long-term impact. Given signs of their growing popularity, particularly among teenagers, the devices need to be properly regulated by government authorities, critics said.

“It is deeply disturbing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken so long to regulate e-cigarettes,” Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement. “The FDA must act without delay to assert jurisdiction over e-cigarettes and take steps to prevent their marketing and sale to kids. FDA regulation is also necessary to prevent unproven or deceptive health claims about e-cigarettes; set standards for their contents, including levels of highly addictive nicotine; and better understand the health risks they may pose.”

Health officials have already voiced concerns that the use of e-cigarettes could lead to the smoking of conventional cigarettes, which are responsible for an estimated 443,000 deaths each year. According to the CDC study, 76.3 percent of middle and high school students who used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days also smoked conventional cigarettes in the same period.

“About 90 percent of all smokers begin smoking as teenagers,” Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health, said in a statement. “We must keep our youth from experimenting or using any tobacco product. These dramatic increases suggest that developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e-cigarettes among youth is critical.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO