Tobacco use among adolescents and teens in the United States continues to decline, but remains high based on new data. Photo by 1503849/Pixabay
March 10 (UPI) -- Some 2.55 million middle-school and high school students in the United States used tobacco products in 2021, according to figures released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the 2020, the agency estimated 4.5 million tobacco users among middle school and high school students nationally, down from 6.2 million in 2019.
Although the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration "remain confident in our study results," the fact the survey was conducted online, with many respondents at home due to pandemic-related school closures means the results cannot be compared with those from previous years.
However, both the 2019 and 2020 surveys were conducted primarily on school campuses, the agencies said.
Still, if the year-to-year numbers are accurate, tobacco use among teens nationally declined by more than 40% from 2020 to 2021.
Among tobacco-using middle and high school students, about one in three reported a preference for at least one type of product, while 30% indicated they switched between two or more, the data showed.
Electronic, or e-cigarettes, were the most popular tobacco product among middle school and high school students in 2021, with an estimated 2 million users, the report found.
An estimated 400,000 of students in that age range smoked traditional cigarettes, while approximately 380,000 used cigars. Roughly 240,000 used smokeless tobacco, while 220,000 used hookahs and 200,000 tried nicotine pouches, according to the report.
"Youth use of tobacco products is unsafe in any form, combustible, smokeless or electronic," Dr. Karen Hacker, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a press release.
"This report provides critical insights needed to combat this serious public health concern and help protect our nation's youth from the harmful effects of tobacco," she said.
The estimates are based on responses from middle school and high school students across the country to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
The survey, an annual assessment of smoking prevalence among adolescents and teens that was conducted online this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is an ongoing project overseen by the CDC and FDA.
In 2021, current use of any tobacco product was higher among middle school and high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, at 14%, compared to those who considered themselves to be heterosexual, at 8%, and those who described themselves as "not sure" about their sexual identity, at 6%, the data showed.
Tobacco use also was higher among students who identified as transgender, at 19%, compared to those who are not transgender, at 8%. In addition, current use of any tobacco product was higher among students who had "psychological distress," up to 14%, as opposed to those who did not, at 6%, the report said.
About eight in 10, or 1.95 million, of student tobacco users nationally reported using flavored tobacco products in the past 30 days, with 76% indicating they were exposed to marketing messages for these products in newspapers or magazines, the data showed.
Approximately 74% of student respondents who used social media indicated that had seen e-cigarette-related posts or content at some point, the agencies said.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were seriously thinking about quitting all tobacco products and just over 60% had tried to do so in 2021, the report found.
"It's revealing that about two-thirds of current youth users expressed a desire to quit tobacco products," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products, said in a press release.
"But the 2021 use data are still concerning and will be valuable for policymakers and educators committed to protecting the next generation from tobacco-related disease and death," he said.