Nov. 5 (UPI) -- More than one in four high school students and one in 10 middle schoolers in the United States are vaping, according to the findings of a new government-led survey published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Additionally, the results of a separate analysis, published simultaneously, confirm concerns that the appeal of so-called e-cigarettes is based on the sweet-tasting flavors available -- with preference for mango, mint and fruit flavors.
Manufacturers of the popular brand Juul last month were forced to suspend sales of their fruit-flavored products in the United States, five weeks after the Trump administration proposed banning them, over concerns they effectively encourage teen use.
"The whole e-cigarette field is quite controversial," Jessica L. Barrington-Trimis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, told UPI. "If adult smokers are able to successfully quit smoking cigarettes using these products, we don't want to discourage that."
While the jury is still out on potential benefits for e-cigarettes as aids to quit smoking conventional cigarettes, Barrington-Trimis said there is virtually universal agreement that "we need to learn what we can do to prevent kids from using these products because of the effects of high levels of nicotine on the developing brain."
The findings of Barrington-Trimis and her colleagues and the National Youth Tobacco Survey, performed by researchers affiliated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health, suggest there's a lot of work to be done.
The NYTS asked more than 10,000 high school students and nearly 9,000 middle-school students from across the country about their vaping habits, with "current use" defined as use on one or more days over the prior 30-day period.
Among the 66.3 percent of students who responded to the questionnaire, 27.5 percent of high schoolers, or those in grades nine through 12, and 10.5 percent of middle schoolers, or those in grades six through eight, reported current e-cigarette use. Of these, 34.2 percent of high school students and 18 percent of middle school students reported frequent use, with 63.6 percent and 65.4 percent, respectively, indicating that they vaped exclusively.
Nearly 60 percent of all current vapers in the survey said they preferred Juul as their "usual" brand, while more than 72 percent of high school students and 59 percent of middle school students indicating they used flavored e-cigarettes, with fruit, menthol or mint, and candy, desserts, or other sweets as the most commonly reported types.
"The NYTS is a large survey conducted each year that focuses exclusively on tobacco use among youth," Karen Cullen, a scientist at the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, who led the survey, said in an agency news release. "We use it to monitor a variety of aspects of tobacco use, including trends in current tobacco use, exposure to tobacco marketing, susceptibility to use, use of flavored tobacco products, etc. We're also able to learn whether there are differences in tobacco product use by different characteristics."
In a separate study, Barrington-Trimis and her colleagues at USC looked at survey data from more than 42,000 8th-, 10th- and 12th-grade students. Those who used Juul e-cigarettes regularly were asked which flavor they smoked "most often." Of the participants, 33.5 percent favored mango, 29.2 percent preferred mint and 16 percent preferred fruit.
"These findings are important because, with all of the policy proposals designed to prevent e-cigarette use among teens, a lot have sought to prohibit sales of fruit-flavored products," Barrington-Trimis said. "Unfortunately, mint and menthol are often excluded. This makes us question how effective these prohibitions will be, even if they take effect."