The perception that vaping is safer -- challenged by several recent studies -- has contributed to the rise in use by young people, researchers say. The rate of use of cigarettes among teens, meanwhile, has stayed the same. Photo by Mylesclark96/Wikimedia
Dec. 20 -- The percentage of U.S. teens who started vaping by age 14 tripled in recent years, researchers report.
The findings come amid a soaring uptake in the use of e-cigarettes by young Americans, and an outbreak of a vaping-linked lung illness that has sickened more than 2,500 people nationwide, including 54 deaths.
The new study suggests that for many who get hooked on nicotine-laden vapes, use starts early.
The research team tracked data from nearly 26,700 teens, aged 16 and 17, who took part in a U.S. youth tobacco survey. The percentage of e-cigarette users who said they started vaping by age 14 rose from about 9 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2018.
The use of products such as conventional cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco remained about the same over that time, according to the report, which was published online Dec. 19 in the American Journal of Public Health.
"I'm not sure you would expect big changes in such a short period for those other products," said study author Rebecca Evans-Polce, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, in Ann Arbor.
"On the other hand, use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in the past five years. Also, it's important to note that for cigarettes especially, kids are still using early. Over half of kids who reported ever using cigarettes by age 16 or 17 reported starting by age 14," she said in a university news release.
While the investigators didn't examine what caused the increase in vaping by age 14, one reason could be the mistaken belief that e-cigarettes aren't as harmful or addictive as conventional cigarettes, according to Evans-Polce.
She noted that research shows early e-cigarette use is associated with later risk for smoking conventional cigarettes, and that nicotine exposure while the brain is developing may cause harm.
As the addictive potential and harms from e-cigarettes become clearer, many states have rushed to ban the sale of flavored vape products, which are thought to be especially enticing to kids. In September, the Trump administration initially proposed a similar federal ban, but has not yet acted on that proposal. In early November, Trump did announce a proposal to raise the federal age for buying e-cigarettes to 21.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the risks of e-cigarettes for children, teens and young adults.
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