One in four high-school seniors has used a vaping product within the last month – a number that becomes alarming in light of the recent outbreak of a mysterious vaping-related illness that has killed 12 Americans and sickened several hundred more.
The Pew Research Center shared several charts tracking the rise of vaping across the country, and the rate of young people using products such as e-cigarettes and vaping pens – which convert cartridges of liquid nicotine or cannabis products, often flavored, into a vapor that the user inhales – more than doubled in the last two years. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of 12th-graders who had vaped nicotine in the past month jumped from 11% to 25%. Among 10th-graders, that number rose from 8% to 20%, and eighth-graders spiked from 4% to 9%, according to University of Michigan data. The number of college students vaping regularly also increased by 10 percentage points between 2017 and 2018.
As for what they are vaping, most 10th and 12th-graders and college students report using nicotine products, with eighth-graders saying that they mostly vaped cartridges with only flavoring. In fact, vaping just flavors was pretty common among 10th and 12th-graders, too (less so the college students), and the younger vapers reported using flavoring-only cartridges more than marijuana cartridges.
Indeed, roughly one-third of students in grades six through 12 told the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey that they used e-cigarettes because of the many flavors available, such as mint, candy, fruit or chocolate. But most of them (39%) began vaping because a friend or family member did it first.
Younger U.S. adults were also less likely to think that vaping is dangerous in a 2018 survey, which found that only one-fifth those ages 18 to 30 believed it was “very harmful to health,” compared with 40% of adults ages 30 to 64, and 48% of those 65 and older. But eight in 10 of these young adults said smoking traditional cigarettes was harmful.
That sense of security has probably been shaken. Pew resurfaced these charts and figures as the death toll stemming from vaping-related breathing illness hit 12 on Thursday, the CDC reported, along with 805 confirmed or probable cases of the mysterious illness that has stricken the nation.
On Friday, the CDC said most of the patients suffering the severe lung disease had used cannabis products containing THC. Both the CDC and the FDA are recommending that people avoid THC-containing vaping products, and the CDC also suggests that vapers consider “refraining from using” e-cigarettes and other vaping products. The FDA will complete a policy on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products over the next few weeks,
But the little-understood outbreak has already led the Trump administration to consider a federal ban on flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, and Walmart announced that it will stop selling all e-cigarettes in its U.S. stores. Massachusetts declared a public health emergency this week and ordered a four-month ban on sales of all vaping products and devices. New York outlawed the sale of flavored e-cigarettes last week, and Michigan has approved a ban on flavored vaping products that includes menthol, but not tobacco flavors.
These health reports and bans have scared some consumers away from vaping products already. The legal cannabis industry’s revenue from vape products has dropped 15% nationwide, and plummeted more than 60% in states like Oregon.
And e-cigarette maker Juul Labs also reported that its CEO Kevin Burns stepped down this week, even as Altria (which owns a 35% stake in it) and Philip Morris announced that their merger was up in smoke.