Data show worrisome rise in youth vaping | Science News for Students

Data show worrisome rise in youth vaping

Growth comes as officials report increase in vaping-related lung injuries
Oct 16, 2019 — 6:45 am EST
a photo of a girl vaping

Around one in 8 U.S. high school seniors vape daily, according to a new federally funded survey. Such heavy use, the authors say, points to these kids being addicted to nicotine.

Aleksandryu/istock/Getty Images Plus

The share of U.S. teens and tweens vaping in school bathrooms and nearly every other place continues to grow. These new data worry health officials. One in every four high-school seniors reported recent vaping, according to an annual survey of teen behaviors. Among sophomores, one in five reported vaping. For 8th-graders, one in every 11 had vaped. And a growing number of studies show vaping can be harmful, in some cases very harmful.

This growth in teen vaping comes as health officials are witnessing a growing outbreak of severe vaping-related illnesses and deaths. As of October 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reports 1,299 cases of lung injury linked to vaping since this summer. Of these, 15 percent of cases were under 18 years old. Another 21 percent were between 18 and 20. The cases come from 49 states, the District of Columbia and one U.S. territory. Of these, 26 people have died. Officials don’t yet know what substance or product is fueling the lung injuries.

The new student vaping stats come from Monitoring the Future. It’s a nationally representative survey of U.S. teens that is conducted by the Institute for Social Research. That’s at the University of Michigan. The survey is funded by the U.S. government. It asked vaping-related questions of more than 4,500 students in each of the three grades.

The new vaping data mark a 4.5-percentage-point rise among 12th graders. The rate is up 4.1 percentage points among 10th graders. Among 8th graders, there has been a rise of 2.8 percentage points over the past year. Richard Miech of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his team reported their findings September 18 in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Vaping trends in U.S. middle and high school students

a bar graph showing the increase in vaping among US middle and high school students
The popularity of vaping continues to increase, as more 8th graders and high school sophomores and seniors report using e-cigarettes each year from 2017 to 2019.
E. Otwell, Source: R. Miech et al/New England Journal of Medicine 2019

“Unfortunately, I am not at all surprised by these increases,” says Susanne Tanski. She’s a pediatrician at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, N.H. “Use [of e-cigs] among teens and young adults is incredibly common, frequent and leading to addiction,” she notes.

Most e-cigarettes vaporize a liquid that contains nicotine, an addictive drug. So this year’s survey for the first time attempted to quantify how many teens might be addicted to e-cigs. To get at that, it asked if students were vaping daily, or at least on 20 of the 30 days before taking the survey. Nearly one in every eight 12th graders had. So had roughly one in every 14 10th graders. Among 8th graders, one in every 50 said they had vaped.

Nicotine can alter how a teen’s brain develops. It can harm its ability to learn, to pay attention and to control impulses.

“We are seeing young people who are struggling with nicotine addiction,” Tanski says. In fact, that addiction “is more intense than we saw with regular cigarettes,” she says.

Power Words

(more about Power Words)

addicted     Unable to control the use of a habit-forming drug or to forego an unhealthy habit (such as video game playing or phone texting). It results from an illness triggered by brain changes that occur after using some drugs or engaging in some extremely pleasurable activities. People with an addiction will feel a compelling need to engage in some behavior, such as using a drug (which can be alcohol, the nicotine in tobacco, a prescription drug or an illegal chemical such as cocaine or heroin) — even when the user knows that doing so risks severe health or legal consequences.

annual     Adjective for something that happens every year. (in botany) A plant that lives only one year, so it usually has a showy flower and produces many seeds.

behavior     The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC     An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC is charged with protecting public health and safety by working to control and prevent disease, injury and disabilities. It does this by investigating disease outbreaks, tracking exposures by Americans to infections and toxic chemicals, and regularly surveying diet and other habits among a representative cross-section of all Americans.

control     A part of an experiment where there is no change from normal conditions.

e-cigarette     (short for electronic cigarette) Battery-powered device that disperses nicotine and other chemicals as tiny airborne particles that users can inhale. They were originally developed as a safer alternative to cigarettes that users could use as they tried to slowly break their addiction to the nicotine in tobacco products. These devices heat up a flavored liquid until it evaporates, producing vapors. People use these devices are known as vapers.

nicotine     A colorless, oily chemical produced in tobacco and certain other plants. It creates the “buzz” associated with smoking. Highly addictive, nicotine is the substance that makes it hard for smokers to give up their use of cigarettes. The chemical is also a poison, sometimes used as a pesticide to kill insects and even some invasive snakes or frogs.

outbreak     The sudden emergence of disease in a population of people or animals. The term may also be applied to the sudden emergence of devastating natural phenomena, such as earthquakes or tornadoes.

pediatrician     A doctor who works in the field of medicine that has to do with children and especially child health. 

social     (adj.) Relating to gatherings of people; a term for animals (or people) that prefer to exist in groups. (noun) A gathering of people, for instance those who belong to a club or other organization, for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company.

survey     To view, examine, measure or evaluate something, often land or broad aspects of a landscape. (with people) To ask questions that glean data on the opinions, practices (such as dining or sleeping habits), knowledge or skills of a broad range of people. Researchers select the number and types of people questioned in hopes that the answers these individuals give will be representative of others who are their age, belong to the same ethnic group or live in the same region. (n.) The list of questions that will be offered to glean those data.

tween     A child just approaching his or her teenage years. Tween is a term usually used for 11- to 12-years olds.

vaping     (v. to vape) A slang term for the use of e-cigarettes because these devices emit vapor, not smoke. People who do this are referred to as vapers.

vaporize     To convert from a liquid to a gas (or vapor) through the application of heat.


Webpage: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping. Posted October 10, 2019.

Journal letter:​ ​​R. Miech et al. Trends in adolescent vaping, 2017–2019. New England Journal of Medicine. Published online September 18, 2019. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1910739.

Journal:.G. Schier et al. Severe pulmonary disease associated with electronic-cigarette–product use — Interim guidance. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Vol. 68, September 13, 2019, p. 787. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6836e2external icon.

Government statement: N. Sharpless and R.R. Redfield. Statement on federal and state collaboration to investigate respiratory illnesses reported after use of e-cigarette products. U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. August 30, 2019.

Webpage: U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Lung illnesses associated with use of vaping products.