More U.S. Teens Are Vaping, but Use of Opioids, Alcohol Falling

Phillip Cunningham
December 20, 2018

While tobacco use has been effectively controlled among United States teenagers, nicotine vaping has nearly doubled among high school students from 11 per cent in 2017 to 20.9 in 2018 leading a large number back to nicotine use and addiction, a survey has found.

Researchers at the University of MI in Ann Arbor, who conducted the annual survey, asked 44,482 students from 392 private and public schools across the country about their use of tobacco, opioids, marijuana and alcohol.

The findings suggest that the total number of high-school students using tobacco surged by 1.3 million between 2017 and 2018. That's an increase of almost 10 percentage points over 2017, when 27.8 percent of high school seniors reported vaping.

The annual survey of substance use among high school students shows 37 percent of seniors have tried vaping, up from just under 28 percent in 2017.

She added that the difficulty youths face in accessing opioid drugs could explain this stark difference in use between teenagers and young adults.

"It is very worrisome", says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funds the survey.

"Intriguingly, when they go off to college or go to work, you see the highest rates of opioid use among 18 to 24 years of age".

Several studies have shown that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to also smoke what's now called combustible tobacco - old-fashioned cigarettes.

The latest survey indicates that students may not realize they're using an addictive substance.

The Food and Drug Administration "has also recognized an "epidemic" of youth vaping".

"One of the biggest risks that we do know is that when kids start with vaping, they are more likely to make the transition to combustible, to smoked cigarettes".

There's yet more disturbing news about kids vaping nicotine. Other studies have shown people claim to be using nicotine-free products when in fact they are not.

Compton said more progress is needed, however. "The concern is these kids that become addicted to nicotine from vaping also may transition to tobacco smoking". "This increase was driven exclusively by nicotine vaping", the researchers wrote. Some focus on the potential benefit of shifting lifelong smokers to less harmful nicotine products, while others fear it will create a new generation addicted to nicotine. For the past two decades, daily use among high school seniors has hovered between 5 and 6.6 percent. Rates of opioid, cocaine and other illicit drug use have also decreased significantly. Yet the percentage of teenagers who reported ever using alcohol dropped as much as 58% from its peak in 1994.

"We are encouraged to see continued declines in a variety of measures of underage alcohol use", says George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The survey found 36 percent of seniors used marijuana at least sometimes, and close to 6 percent said they used it daily. Under 14 percent said they had been binge-drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a row.

"Even parents have a tolerance to alcohol, and in many instances, they maybe even provide the alcohol for parties that they are holding in their house, with the sense that, what harm is there to let teenagers drink when they are home?"

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