Teens using e-cigs more than cigarettes, survey finds

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Teenagers are using e-cigarettes more than traditional cigarettes, according to a new survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

This is the first time the annual Monitoring The Future nationwide survey of thousands of students has asked about e-cigarette use.  The results come at a time when overall use of traditional cigarettes is down from previous years.

The survey found that 17 percent of high school seniors said they used an e-cigarette in the last month, compared with 14 percent who had smoked a traditional cigarette. And among eighth graders, nearly 9 percent said they had tried an e-cigarette in the past month, compared with the 4 percent who had tried a tobacco cigarette.

Another federal survey released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an increase in e-cigarette use among high-schoolers, but at much lower percentages than what the Institute on Drug Abuse found. That survey did not separate teens by age.

Experts are split over e-cigarettes. Some say they help smokers quit and others say they can lead to tobacco smoking.

A typical e-cigarette is a battery-powered device filled with a nicotine-based liquid that is vaporized and inhaled. 

"Despite the positive developments this year, we are concerned about the levels of e-cigarette use among teens that we are seeing," said Lloyd D. Johnston, principal investigator at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. "It would be a tragedy if this product undid some of the great progress made to date in reducing cigarette smoking by teens."

Next year the survey results are expected to provide comparative data for e-cigarette use among teenagers.

The survey also covered alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs. Some of the highlights:

  • Alcohol: Drinking is declining among all teenagers. Among 12th graders 37 percent said they tried alcohol in the past month, down from 39 percent the previous year. Tenth grade usage in the past month was 24 percent, down from 30 percent and usage among eighth graders was 9 percent, down from 15 percent the prior year.
  • Marijuana: In the past month usage remained steady among teens: 21.2 percent of  high school seniors said they used; 16.6 percent of 10th graders; and 6.5 percent of eighth graders.
  • Prescription Meds: Usage is down among teens. Opioid pain reliever use was 6.1 percent among 12th graders, down from 7.1 percent the year before and from the peak of 9.5 percent in 2004.



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