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New Report Shows That, Yes, Teens Are Still Vaping

Despite federal efforts, more than 2.5 million middle and high schoolers are reaching for e-cigarettes.

A young person blowing vapor or smoke that covers their face
Yana Iskayeva/Getty Images

A new report released this week proves teens are still vaping in high numbers, despite efforts from health officials to curb e-cigarettes' appeal to young people.

According to the Oct. 7 issue of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Weekly Morbidity and Mortality report, more than 2.5 million middle and high schoolers in the US -- over 9% of students -- vape or use e-cigarettes. The report was based on an online survey given to thousands of students nationwide. Disposable e-cigarette products were the most common.

E-cigarettes were initially marketed toward former smokers to help them avoid the harmful effects of tobacco cigarettes; they work by converting liquid nicotine into vapor. But experts have warned that the smooth delivery of high nicotine content, packaged in a sleek design, may promote nicotine addiction in younger people

There's been a lot of back-and-forth this year between the US Food and Drug Administration and Juul, a big e-cigarette brand, over Juul's efforts to stay on the US market. (The FDA's marketing denial order to Juul is currently on hold.) And while 22% of students who reported vaping said they used Juul in the past month, it wasn't a top-three contender for the brands kids say they usually reach for. According to the report, the most popular brands students named were Puff Bar (14.5%), Vuse (12.5%) and Hyde (5.5%). The FDA notes that the use of Hyde is probably much higher than officially reported in the survey since it wasn't listed as an option, and students had to write in "Hyde" as their preferred brand. 

While vaping among kids and teens is still high, the numbers are lower than in 2019, when more than 5 million students reported using e-cigarettes. The FDA cautioned against comparing data from recent years due to difficulties in collecting data from COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. 

What the FDA is doing 

The FDA said Thursday it issued a warning letter to Puff Bar for receiving and delivering e-cigarettes without authorization from the agency. Puff Bar didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The FDA also announced its marketing denial orders for 32 different Hyde products. Magellan Technology Inc, which submitted the marketing applications for Hyde, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Vuse is authorized by the FDA to sell some of its tobacco-flavored products in the US, but not many of its other products.

Most kids in the survey reported using fruit, candy or other sweetly flavored vape products -- most frequently, disposable ones. The FDA has cracked down on some flavored e-cigarette products, but keeping them off the market or out of teens' reach has proved difficult, thanks to regulation loopholes and the potential availability of lesser-known disposable products that might get around the FDA's reach. The FDA has gone so far as to ask the public for help in identifying products that might be in violation. 

"What that shows is that playing Whac-A-Mole with a few products is not going to solve the problem," Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told The New York Times. "As long as any flavored products are still on the market, kids are going to shift to them." 

What is 'vaping,' anyway? 

E-cigarettes work by converting liquid nicotine into vapor. They're marketing toward smokers as a safer option because they leave out some of the toxic ingredients of cigarettes. But the sheer addictiveness of e-cigarettes, because of their high nicotine levels, has called into question the safety of vaping -- especially among young people and teens who've never smoked cigarettes but use their pens at levels suggesting an active addiction. 

In the newest survey, about one in four middle or high school students reported vaping daily. Four in 10 students reported using a vape product at least 20 days out of a 30-day period. 

According to the CDC, nicotine use in kids or young adults can harm parts of the brain or even change how they form memories. Impulse control, attention, mood and learning may also be affected. Nicotine addiction can also affect mental health and may cause other health problems researchers don't yet understand. 

Read more: How to Stop Vaping: 8 Tips From Addiction Experts

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.