America’s New Vaping Epidemic

Twice as many high school students used nicotine-tinged electronic cigarettes in 2018 compared with the year before—the largest ever recorded jump in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the US. Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research released the substance use data from their annual Monitoring the Future study, which showed that about 21 percent of 12th-graders reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days.

After learning that one in five high school-aged kids are now vaping tobacco on a regular basis, the Food and Drug Administration became so concerned that the it is now considering drug therapy options to help addicted teens quit smoking, according to CNN.

In December, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued an unusual advisory about the the dangers of e-cigarette use among American teenagers.

“We must take aggressive steps to protect our children from these highly potent products that risk exposing a new generation of young people to nicotine,” wrote Adams. “The bad news is that e-cigarette use has become an epidemic among our nation’s young people. However, the good news is that we know what works to effectively protect our kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes.”

“We must take aggressive steps to protect our children from these highly potent products that risk exposing a new generation of young people to nicotine,” wrote Adams. “The bad news is that e-cigarette use has become an epidemic among our nation’s young people. However, the good news is that we know what works to effectively protect our kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes.”

The results from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a dramatic past-year increase in e-cigarette use among young Americans. “These new data show that America faces an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which threatens to engulf a new generation in nicotine addiction,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “By one measure, the rate of youth e-cigarette use almost doubled in the last year, which confirms the need for FDA’s ongoing policy proposals and enforcement actions.”

Researchers estimate about 1.3 million more high school students were vaping in 2018 compared to 2017. The number of students vaping marijuana also increased.

Vaping Cannabis

A resurgence of nicotine misuse is not the only danger posed by the vaping epidemic. A longitudinal study published in 2018 suggests that teens who use e-cigarettes may be twice as likely to smoke cannabis as their peers who never try vaping. “The brain is still developing during the teen years, nicotine exposure might lead to changes in the central nervous system that predispose teens to dependence on other drugs of abuse,” lead author Hongying Dai told Reuters. “Experimenting with e-cigarettes might also increase youth’s curiosity about marijuana, reduce perceived harm of marijuana use, and increase the social access to marijuana from peers and friends.”

E-cigarettes seem to be a more potent delivery vehicle as well. In a different study of infrequent cannabis users, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers showed that, compared with smoking cannabis, vaping marijuana products “increased the rate of short-term anxiety, paranoia, memory loss and distraction when doses were the same.”

Tobacco-Free Recovery

While smoking tobacco or marijuana will not necessarily induce misuse of other, more dangerous drugs, it is well known among addiction professionals that smoking tobacco is particularly prevalent among patients with substance use disorders.

The CDC reports that “the population who enters treatment for substance abuse is more likely to use tobacco than the general population, and tobacco use kills more people who seek substance abuse treatment than the alcohol or drug use that brings them there.”

A recent study assessed changes in smoking-related outcomes for people in rehab and concluded that “addiction treatment programs, and agencies responsible for licensing, regulating, and funding these programs, should implement tobacco-free grounds policies.”

After ignoring the topic of nicotine addiction for years, many treatment facilities have now implemented tobacco-free grounds. In response to the mounting evidence that tobacco cessation improves the chances of long-term recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol, the campus of the Farley Center became tobacco free in January 2015.

Ideally, people in recovery should stop using all addictive substances and instead choose to engage fully with a healthy life of recovery from addiction.