[Editor’s Note: When we think of vaping, we think of vaping cannabis oils or extracts. When teens vape, they seem be be more interested in nicotine and tobacco rather than other drugs. A companion story to this shows teen cannabis use down in legal states and that study was funded by the government!]
Teen vape use is skyrocketing. But the phenomenon is so viral that public health researchers have had little time to study it. Indeed, a recent survey shows that in a short time, vaping has surpassed all other methods of consuming substances except for drinking. In other words, more teens partake in vaping than smoking cigarettes, weed, or any other drug. Researchers found that among U.S. high school seniors, vape use doubled from 2017 to 2018. Equally interesting, however, was what the survey showed about adolescent substance use across the board. According to the data, teens’ use of other substances are staying constant or on the decline.
Teen Vape Use Doubled From Last Year
It’s difficult to study teen vaping. That’s partly due to a wide range of substances that one can vape. Students can vape nicotine, cannabis, liquid tobacco or simply flavoring. So measuring simple vape use doesn’t provide the clearest picture about what specific substances young people are vaping. The Monitoring the Future survey attempts to fill in those gaps. Overall, researchers have polled 44,482 students from nearly 400 private and public schools. Funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the survey is in its second year and publishes its results in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Monitoring the Future surveys students in eighth, 10th and 12th grade. Dr. Richard Miech, the survey’s lead researcher, says that in terms of raw numbers, there are 1.3 million more teens vaping in 2018 than 2017. In 2017, 27.8 percent of high school seniors reported vaping something in the past 12 months, whether nicotine or cannabis or other liquid. In 2018, 37.3 percent reported vaping over the past year. Overall vaping numbers also reflect the number of teens who vaped nicotine over the 30 days prior to the survey. In 2017, 11 percent of high school seniors vaped nicotine in the one month period before the survey. In 2018, that number jumped to 21 percent.
Is Vape Culture Turning Teens Away from Drugs?
In light of numbers like these, public health officials are sounding the alarm on teen vape use. Speaking with ABC News, NIDA deputy director Dr. Wilson Compton said, “it is important for the public to know these numbers in order to most effectively target prevention efforts to the areas of adolescent substance use where they’re most needed.”
Experts say teen vaping poses risks beyond the direct health risks of using the devices themselves. They say the prevalence of vaping “normalizes drug-taking behavior” and “primes the brain to the rewarding effects of other drugs.” These can increase the chances teens will develop patterns of substance abuse later in life. Teens are vaping during a key developmental period for their brain. And the younger a person is when they try a substance for the first time, the more vulnerable they are to developing a future habit, Compton told ABC. A Pediatrics study earlier this year concluded that teens who vape are more likely to consume cannabis later in life.
Whatever future challenges teen vape users may face, in the present, vaping doesn’t seem to be drawing teens to other substances. In fact, the same survey revealed that teens’ use of alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis, prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic drugs are generally on the decline. Compton says that matters. He wants teens to “know that the majority of their peers are not using drugs,” even if more than a third of them have vaped this year. According to the survey, alcohol, and tobacco use are dropping significantly. Even opioid misuse and abuse is on the decline. Cannabis use, however, is staying steady among young people.