IU health experts react to CDC survey showing fewer teens are vaping


INDIANAPOLIS – A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds fewer teens are vaping or using e-cigarettes.

The study, released on Wednesday, found fewer than 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students said they were recent users of e-cigs and other vaping products. Last year, a similar survey found about 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students recently vaped.

However, the report shows a big bump in the use of disposable e-cigarettes. The FDA barred flavors from small vaping devices like Juul and others that are mainly used by minors earlier this year.

 “We are seeing a shift in the use of products,” explained Deborah Hudson Buckles, program director for the tobacco treatment program at the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The pre-filled flavored pods were removed from the market. What wasn’t removed from the market are flavored disposable products and we’re seeing a sharp increase in youth use of those products, as well as menthol. So, while mint and fruity flavors were most commonly used among youth, now we’re seeing because those products aren’t available in the pre-filled disposable pods, what we’re seeing is a huge shift to the menthol.”

Buckles and other health experts believe last year’s outbreak of vaping related illnesses and deaths contributed to the decline in numbers.

The Indiana Department of Health found in 2018 more than 1 in 5 high school students and nearly 1 in 12 middle schoolers reported using a tobacco product. The survey showed most were using e-cigarettes like Juul during that time. The survey also showed between the years of 2000 to 2018, the use of smokeless tobacco products had gone down in both parties.

Along with that, federally and in Indiana, the age to buy tobacco products went up to 21. In Indiana, the possession age is also 21. Buckles believes this may have contributed to fewer teens smoking and vaping.

The coronavirus pandemic may have also played a role. Buckles mentioned a report shows there is an increased COVID-19 risk among people who smoke and vape.

“That’s because of the fact that smoking and vaping does affect the immune system, so people are more at risk for acquiring this virus,” she explained “But I think also because of the hand-to-mouth activity. We’re seeing more people avoiding these and getting COVID-19 because of bringing things from your hand to your mouth and you’re able contract COVID-19 easier that way.”

The survey suggests that the number of school kids who vape fell by 1.8 million in a year, from 5.4 million to 3.6 million. Buckles say that number, while promising, is still high and is concerning, especially during a pandemic.

“The products that are out there today have a much higher nicotine addiction rate and that’s because they’re nicotine-salts products so it’s easier to consume a larger amount of nicotine, it’s not as irritating to the body,” said Buckles. “So, what we’re seeing is higher nicotine-dependence levels in youth that are using these products and nicotine in the adolescent brain is really detrimental. It causes memory issues, learning issues, emotional issues, higher potential for other addictions, and higher potential to go on to use combustible cigarettes.”

Health experts say while the numbers are declining and showing a shift in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to be done.

 “Public health strategies often take years to implement and often aren’t able to act fast enough to an industry that spends billions on advertising their deadly products and can be very nimble at addicting our youth,” Buckles explains. “The best strategies we have to move quickly to stop them is through state and local policy to remove ALL flavored tobacco products from the market.”

Buckles believes we need to be enacting more state and local ordinances and policies to eliminate flavored tobacco products because that’s where kids are starting.

“If we don’t deal with this and prevent kids from starting this whole generation is going to go on and be nicotine-addicted for life because it’s not easy to quit,” she explained. “It’s very hard to quit and as we see a higher incidents level of dependence, it’s going to be even harder for people to quit.”

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