More middle and high school students are using e-cigarettes than ever before
The use of e-cigarettes among middle and high schoolers in the U.S. is skyrocketing, according to new data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to the new data, which comes from an annual survey of middle and high schoolers across the country, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product in 2015.
A total of 3 million middle and high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes in 2015 — up from 2.46 million last year. Another 1.7 million students reported smoking regular cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The rising use of e-cigarettes, which many studies show present similar health risks as smoking regular cigarettes do, served to offset a decline in the use of conventional cigarettes among middle and high schoolers between 2011 to 2015.
This means that the overall smoking rate among American youth was unchanged during this five-year period.
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"E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, and use continues to climb," said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement.
"No form of youth tobacco use is safe. Nicotine is an addictive drug and use during adolescence may cause lasting harm to brain development."
Sixteen percent of high school and 5.3 percent of middle school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2015, the survey shows. This was the second straight year that e-cigarettes were the most commonly-used tobacco product among American youth, the CDC said in a press release.
If current smoking rates continue, the CDC found, 5.6 million young Americans alive today "are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease."
Smoking-related illnesses, including lung cancer and emphysema, are the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.
In 2015, 25.3 percent of high school students reported that they currently use a tobacco product, including 13 percent who said they currently use two or more such products.
One in four high school students and one in 13 middle school students also reported that they currently use any tobacco product, with e-cigarettes as the most popular product in both age groups.
The use of e-cigarettes rose particularly sharply among high schoolers in the past five years, going from 1.5 percent of high school students in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.
Meanwhile, the use of conventional cigarettes among high schoolers declined during the same period.
Public health authorities in the U.S., UK and other countries are grappling with how to regulate e-cigarettes and discourage their use, much as they have done with regular cigarettes, due to the health risks.
Meanwhile, the health risks from such products are still being evaluated, with some studies showing that e-cigarettes may not be quite as dangerous as regular cigarettes, while others show greater risk.
The FDA has regulatory authority over cigarettes and other tobacco products, but is in the process of finalizing the rule for it to oversee e-cigarettes.
"The FDA remains deeply concerned about the overall high rate at which children and adolescents use tobacco products, including novel products such as e-cigarettes and hookah," said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, in a press release.
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