Keenan Blog

Teen Vaping is the New Drug Abuse Trend

April 15, 2019

Opioid overdoses and deaths have drawn much attention in recent news about drug abuse. But underlying that epidemic is an alarming trend toward the use of e-cigarettes and vaping liquids by teenagers. Many of these vaping products contain nicotine, the same addictive substance in tobacco. While youth cigarette smoking has steadily decreased since peaking in 1997, growth of vaping by high schoolers has skyrocketed by 900 percent since 2011. It’s a trend that could spell more widespread addiction to substances including alcohol and opioids as these youth become adults.

Monitoring the Future is an annual survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders conducted by researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, under a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health. Since 1975, the survey has measured how teens report their drug and alcohol use and related attitudes in 12th graders nationwide; 8th and 10th graders were added to the survey in 1991. The sample for the 2018 survey comprised 44,482 students from 392 public and private schools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a 78 percent increase in vaping by high school students, translating to 3.6 million high school and middle school students now using e-cigarettes. 

Nearly 2 in 5 students in 12th grade report past-year vaping, raising concerns about the impact on brain health and potential for addiction. The jump from 27.8 percent in the 2017 survey represents the biggest year-to-year increase in substance use ever recorded in the survey’s 44 years. The trends seem to show vaping among teens is starting earlier. In 2018, past-year vaping for each grade was:

  • 8th grade: 17.6%, a 32% increase from 2017
  • 10th grade: 32.3%, a 35% increase from 2017
  • 12th grade: 37.3%, up 34% from 2017

The NIDA researchers point out that the risk of future addiction increases the younger someone first takes a drug. The teen brain is still developing and is more vulnerable to the negative effects of substances, including nicotine. Nicotine primes the brain to the rewarding effects of other drugs. According to the American Cancer Society and the Lung Association, nicotine is among the most addictive of chemicals, on a par with cocaine and heroin.

What Can We Do About It?

Responding to these trends, California – among a few other states and municipalities – raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and nicotine vaping products from 18 to 21. These laws along with enforcement and retail compliance may reduce teen access to nicotine products to a degree. But effective reversal of the teen vaping trend will require raising awareness of the risks – like the higher potential for addiction to dangerous drugs – along with prevention and cessation programs. Parents and other adults can also set the example by being tobacco- and nicotine-free themselves!

About Tim Crawford
Tim Crawford was an associate at Keenan more than 20 years, and now consults on communication, media relations and health care reform projects. Tim is a Certified Internet Marketer, chairs the Internet Marketing Association of New Mexico, and serves on the California YMCA Board of Directors.