CDC: E-Cigarette Use by Youths Tripled in 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that youths are smoking cigarettes less, but using electronic cigarettes more. 

Among high school students, e-cigarette use increased to 13.4 percent in 2014 from 4.5 percent in 2013, according to newly released research from the CDC. Cigarette use over the same period decreased to 9.2 percent from 12.7 percent, the largest year-over-year decline reported in more than a decade, Reuters reported.

Overall, tobacco use among high school students ticked up to 24.6 percent from 22.9 percent.

The new CDC data is raising concerns among tobacco control advocates who fear e-cigarettes will create a new generation of nicotine addicts who may eventually switch to traditional cigarettes, the news outlet added.

"Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction and lead to sustained tobacco use," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a statement.

Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration's tobacco division, said the data "forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened."

However, electronic cigarette proponents argue that the CDC data could equally suggest that smoking rates fell because young people took up e-cigarettes instead of traditional cigarettes, according to Reuters.

"There is no firm conclusion that one can draw from correlational data," Jed Rose, director of the Center for Smoking Cessation at Duke University Medical Center, said in an interview. "But it is equally amenable to the interpretation that e-cigarettes are diverting young people away from cigarettes."

The data was drawn from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which showed current e-cigarette use (defined as use at least once in the past 30 days) surpassed current use of every other tobacco product for the first time. It was not clear how many e-cigarette users were previously smokers and had switched.

Altogether, 4.6 million middle and high school students were current users of any tobacco product. Of those, 2.2 million used at least two products, the news outlet reported.

The data also showed hookah use nearly doubled to 9.4 percent from 5.2 percent. The CDC said nearly half the students used more than one tobacco product. The most popular was e-cigarettes, followed by hookah. Cigarettes came in third place, followed by cigars, smokeless tobacco and pipes.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco and expects to publish a rule extending its authority to e-cigarettes, hookah and other tobacco products in June, according to Reuters.

"These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why FDA intends to regulate these additional products to protect public health," Zeller said.

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