Jan. 7 (UPI) -- After dropping off a few years ago, the use of flavored tobacco products has rebounded among middle and high school kids because of e-cigarettes, a new study says.
The number of high school age kids using flavored tobacco fell from 69.4 percent in 2014 to 57.7 percent in 2016, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics published Monday. But between 2016 and 2017, that number started moving back up to 63.6 percent.
One expert blames that uptick on e-cigarette use.
"Currently, there are no restrictions on the marketing and sales of flavored non-cigarette tobacco products. This has led to a proliferation of flavored tobacco products in the marketplace. Flavoring has become one of the leading reasons for current tobacco use among youth," Hongying Dai, an associate professor at the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told UPI.
"It is reported that 81 percent of e-cigarette users, 79 percent of hookah users, 74 percent of cigar users, 69 percent of smokeless tobacco users and 67 percent of snus users attributed the availability of appealing flavors for their tobacco use in 2013 and 2014 among teenagers aged 12 to 17 years," he said.
To slow down e-cigarette popularity among youth, the FDA sent out more than 1,300 warning letters to retailers who sold the products illegally to minors.
Industry giant Juul accounts for nearly one in three e-cigarette sales in the U.S., according to estimates.
In November, Juul pledged to stop selling its popular flavored pods in some stores and to shutdown its social media campaigns. This followed a raid of the company's San Francisco headquarters where the FDA searched for documents of marketing strategies targeting minors.
In December, the number of high school kids using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days shot up by 50 percent from 2017 to 2018.
"Flavored tobacco products could serve as a starter kit for smoking because adolescents often experiment with smoking in pursuit of curiosity and novelty. Also, concerns have been raised about the potential inhalation toxicity of flavoring," Dai said.
The FDA has also cracked down on flavored tobacco products in a proposal that included banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. And previous studies have shown that flavored tobacco products attract young consumers who may think they are less harmful.
"In November 2018, the FDA proposed new restrictions on flavored tobacco products. I expect that these new restrictions will have a positive impact on reducing youth access to flavored tobacco product use, including JUUL, and thus decreasing the prevalence of flavor tobacco use among youth," Dai said.