Tobacco use among U.S. students dropped sharply in 2016

Youth tobacco use in the US fell to historic lows in 2016, leading public health experts to speculate that a smoke-free generation may be within reach.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey has been tracking e-cigarette and tobacco use in high school and middle school students from 2011 to 2016.

The data also show an incredible 4.7 percentage point decline in high school e-cigarette prevalence, now at 11.3 percent vs. 16 percent in 2015.

"I was surprised to see that most of the countries were in the 10 to 20 percent range; I would have thought the numbers would be higher, but they either are similar or slightly higher than rates in the US which are around 10 to 15 percent", said Dr. Maher Karam-Hage, associate medical director of the tobacco treatment program at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Among black high school students, cigars were the most commonly used product.

For middle-schoolers, rates of e-cigarette use dropped as well.

The decline in cigarette use follows a broad array of public health campaigns and coincides with the rise of vaping.

Public health officials attribute the overall decline in tobacco use to higher prices, access restrictions and laws prohibiting its use in certain areas.

A government survey suggests the number of high school and middle school students using electronic cigarettes fell to 2.2 million last year, from 3 million the year before.

The decline in traditional and e-cig usage was applauded both by anti-tobacco advocates, who want to severely limit or ban innovative tobacco and nicotine products along with traditional cigarettes, and anti-smoking advocates, who believe there is a prominent societal role for the innovation products. According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, each day more than 2,500 new kids under the age of 18 start smoking and almost 400 turn daily smokers from being occasional ones. Nicotine is believed to be unsafe for the developing brain, for example. "The bad news is that we still have 3.9 million youth in this country who are using tobacco products, and about half of them are using two or more products".

The findings are in line with the University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future survey, which showed a drop in youth vaping in 2016 down to 13 percent of high school students.

Myers said "it is too soon" to determine whether the e-cig use decline "is a long-term trend or a one-year blip". "And the U.S. Surgeon General has also concluded that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless and may contain other harmful ingredients including heavy metals, ultrafine particulates, and volatile organic compounds".

The results from the recent 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey show that compared to 2015, there were fewer users of tobacco products in 2016.

That's because more kids and teens started to use e-cigarettes and hookah over the past five years, the report said.

Almost 2 million middle and high school students said they had used two or more tobacco products in the past 30 days. Some evidence also shows that e-cigarettes use can also lead young adults to use other forms of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.

It reveals that nine percent students reported that they had smoked cigarettes, even a puff or two.

Anti-smoking advocates say the increased use of e-cigs and vaporizers is a sign of youths recognizing that those products are a potential reduced-risk way to consumer tobacco and nicotine.

Vanessa Coleman

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