New Numbers Show Increase in Youth Tobacco Use

E-cigarettes most popular product, according to survey
Photograph: Shutterstock

ATLANTA — The number of minors using tobacco products is increasing—possibly by as much as 25% over last year, according to the latest numbers from the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Dec. 5, the survey asked middle school and high school students to self-report their use of tobacco in any form, with about 1 in 3 high school students (4.7 million) and about one in eight middle school students (1.5 million) reporting they had done so in the past 30 days.

When asked about the year-to-year comparison, a CDC spokesperson told CSP Daily News that “direct attribution of change to actual increases in product use from 2018 to 2019 is not possible” because of changes made to the 2019 survey and its data-gathering methods. Those changes could have led to higher estimates of use, the spokesperson said, explaining that changes to the survey included the electronic mode of questionnaire administration (or the use of tablet-style electronics to gather data for the first time), preamble descriptions such as specific brand examples, and tobacco product images.

Compared to the 6.2 million middle and high school current tobacco users in 2019, the 2018 report found that about 4.9 million middle and high school students were current users, up from 3.6 million in 2017, the spokesperson said.

For the sixth year in a row, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high school (27.5%) and middle school students (10.5%), the report said. Tobacco products used by middle school and high school students were not limited to e-cigarettes; they also included cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookahs and pipe tobacco.

“Our nation’s youth are becoming increasingly exposed to nicotine, a drug that is highly addictive and can harm brain development,” said Robert Redfield, a director at the CDC. “Youth use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. It is incumbent upon public health and healthcare professionals to educate Americans about the risks resulting from this epidemic among our youth.”

Many of these students are also using more than one tobacco product. Among current tobacco product users, about 1 in 3 middle school and high school students (2.1 million) used two or more tobacco products.

In collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the CDC analyzed data from the 2019 survey, which has been conducted periodically from 1999 to 2009 and then annually since 2011. From 1999 through 2018, the survey had been conducted in middle schools and high schools via paper and pencil questionnaires. Researchers administered the survey using tablet computers for the first time in 2019.

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