More than one in 10 high school students in the United States are currently using e-cigarettes, according to new data. Photo by Krystian-Graba
Sept. 30 (UPI) -- More than 2 million middle school and high school students in the United States reported currently using e-cigarettes in 2021, according to data released Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flavored e-cigarettes, or vaping devices, were the preferred option for more than eight in 10 of these younger users, the data showed.
When many students were in remote learning environments due to the COVID-19 pandemic that might have affected their access to tobacco products, about 11%, or 1.7 million, of high school students and 3%, or 320,000, of middle school students nationally reported current e-cigarette use.
"These data highlight the fact that flavored e-cigarettes are still extremely popular with kids," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said in a press release.
The FDA last year banned all flavors in pod-based e-cigarette systems aside from tobacco and menthol, but has not outright banned disposable single-use devices that contain fruit and other sweet flavors.
The agency also has started banning e-liquids sold in bottles -- in August it banned 55,000 products from three companies -- and warning companies that sell single-use devices, though it has not actually banned them.
Some companies, the popular Puff Bar brand among them, have reportedly started using synthetic nicotine in their products in an attempt to skirt FDA regulation, though it is unclear where non-natural nicotine falls under its regulatory power.
"We are equally disturbed by the quarter of high school students who use e-cigarettes and say they vape every single day," Zeller said.
Previous studies have suggested that as many as one in five teens across the country is using e-cigarettes.
The findings released Thursday are based on responses to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, an ongoing, annual assessment administered to students in middle school, or grades six through eight, and high school, or grades nine through 12.
The survey defined current users as those who vaped one or more times during the previous 30 days and assessed frequency of use and use by device type, flavors and usual brand.
Data were collected using an online survey administered between Jan. 18 and May 21.
Earlier versions were conducted in person so, as a result, this year's findings cannot be compared to those from previous surveys, the agencies said.
Among those who currently used e-cigarettes, 44% of high school students and 17% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes on 20 or more of the past 30 days.
Of current users, 28% of high school students and 8% of middle school students who used e-cigarettes used them daily.
The most commonly used e-cigarette device type was disposables, cited by 54% of respondents, followed by prefilled or refillable pods or cartridges, which were cited by 29% of respondents.
Nearly 85% of teen users said they favored flavored e-cigarettes, with the commonly used flavors being fruit, candy, desserts or other sweets, as well as mint and menthol, the data showed.
Among high school students who currently used e-cigarettes, 26% reported their usual brand was Puff Bar, followed by Vuse at 11% and SMOK at 10% of respondents.
Conversely, among middle school students who currently used e-cigarettes, 30% reported their usual brand was Puff Bar and 12.5% indicated JUUL.
"This study shows that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, e-cigarette use among youth remains a serious public health concern," Dr. Karen Hacker, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
"It's critical we continue working together to protect young people from the risks associated with tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes," she said.