More U.S. high schoolers vape, but adoption rate is slowing

Sissy Spacek as Carrie 300x180Vaping among U.S. schoolkids is in the news again, but the rate of increase in take-up of e-cigarettes appears to have slowed.

Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) highlighted today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency, shows that in 2013 4.5% of high school students were “current” users of e-cigarettes.

That figure was up from 2.8% in 2012, an increase of around 60%. However, between 2011 and 2012 it nearly doubled, from 1.5% to 2.8%.

In middle schools, meanwhile, current usage was flat year-on-year at 1.1%. Again, it nearly doubled in the year 2011-12, from 0.6% to 1.1%.

High school students are aged around 14-18, while those at middle schools – also known as junior high schools – are around 11-14.

About four times as likely as their middle school counterparts to currently use e-cigs, high school students were equally more likely to have ever used them. 11.9% of the older group said that they had tried an e-cig at least once, against 3% of the younger children.

In both groups, the majority of e-cig users also employed other tobacco products. Of those who self-identified as current users of e-cigarettes:

• Nearly 90% of high school students dual-used.

• About 60% of middle school students dual-used.

Indeed, use of multiple different kinds of tobacco products (a category in which the CDC includes e-cigs) was common in both groups. Of 22.9% of high school students saying that they used a tobacco product of any sort, 12.6%  – more than half – used more than one type. Among the middle school contingent, 6.5% used a tobacco product, and a little under half (2.9%) used more than one.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey is a self-administered questionnaire, delivered to children through schools and completed for 2013 by about 18,000 individuals.

What This Means: The NYTS data has predictably attracted headlines; and it does seem to show an appreciable increase in e-cig use among high school students at least (against a backdrop of declining or static smoking of tobacco cigarettes in both groups).

It may, however, be impressionistic at best – although it is important to note that inaccuracies could go either way. The definition of current use as having vaped on at least one day during the last 30 will surely have brought a lot of idle samplers as well as hardcore puffers into the totals, and recalls the widely-criticised narrow definition of “not intending to smoke” offered by the CDC earlier this year when discussing other findings from the same surveys.

On the other hand, the CDC does note that where a student didn’t respond to a question they were treated as a non-user of the tobacco product concerned, so that may have resulted in some under-counting.

Whatever the true totals, the really important news here may be the slowdown in adoption, and when 2014’s figures appear they should show if that is a blip or a trend. The question for the industry is whether that will be too late to influence policy-makers concerned about youth vaping, and particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as it considers feedback on its proposed regulations.

– Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff

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