E-cigarette use among middle school and high school age kids is up from last year in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control, but is that actually a good thing?
E-cigarettes aren’t safe, but they are safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes, which makes one wonder if the increase in e-cigarette use – or vaping, as it is often referred to – means that young people are switching over from tobacco cigarette use to E-cigarettes. The flip side of the conversation is that more people are originally taking up smoking e-cigarettes and that they will eventually become a gateway for young people to transition to traditional smoking.
For an answer, let’s look at the data.
In 2015, about five percent of middle school students in the United States describe themselves as e-cigarette smokers. That is up from four percent in 2014. That may not seem like a large jump, but with an estimated 4 million middle school kids across the United States, that’s a jump of about 40,000 kids that are using e-cigarettes across the country. If you look at the federal data from 2011, there’s even a higher jump, from when only about one percent of middle school students said that they were using e-cigarettes.
For high school kids, the jump was even higher.
The use of e-cigarettes among high school students jumped from 13 percent in 2014 to 16 percent in 2015. With almost 15 million kids enrolled in high school across the country, that’s an added 450,000 extra high school kids that are using e-cigarettes than just the year before. The rate at which high-school kids have taken to e-cigarettes is particularly alarming considering that only 1.5 percent of them said that they used e-cigarettes in 2011.
So, what about that notion that e-cigarette use would be a gateway to tobacco cigarettes? Well, for the time being, that doesn’t seem to be happening… at least not yet, according to public health experts. Last year, about nine percent of high school kids said that they smoked tobacco cigarettes, a percentage that remained unchanged from the year before. However, tobacco use among high school kids in the United States is actually down an impressive sixteen percent from 2011.
Does that data mean that e-cigarettes aren’t actually leading to tobacco use among teens? Health experts say “not so fast.” Kenneth E. Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan says that e-cigarettes are so new, that the data is hard to calculate.
“We do not have any strong evidence that it [E-Cigarette use] is encouraging smoking among kids but neither do we have good evidence that it won’t over time.”
E-cigarettes are just one of a hundred examples of technology outrunning legislation in the past few decades. When e-cigarettes first hit the market in the mid-2000s, they became so popular so fast that they had flooded the marketplace before the FDA or any other government agency could really get a handle on them. The e-cigarette market is already a multi-billion dollar industry, with industry experts estimating around a total of $3.3 billion made off of the products in 2015 alone.
What it comes down to in the end is that e-cigarettes are still so new that the possible dangers and benefits of them are still as gray as an exuded puff of berry-flavored vapor. Even though the national statistics on traditional tobacco smoking says that American use of tobacco smoking has dropped immensely since the 1960s, there are still over 40 million Americans that smoke.
The fact of the matter is that no one is absolutely sure at the moment what the effects on future generations will be – positive or negative – due to e-cigarettes.
[Feature Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]