Teen Vaping Is Way Down But Nobody Knows Why

(Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
(Photo illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Last year, teen use of electronic cigarettes surpassed traditional cigarette use for the first time ever. But a new study shows that vaping is on the decline with high schoolers. And researchers can’t tell if it’s just a blip or if teens have really turned away from vaping for good.

Teens’ smoking traditional cigarettes hit its peak in the mid 1990s, when almost 37 percent of American high school seniors reported that they’d smoked within the past month. Today, that number is just 10 percent. But the number of teens who reported vaping has risen steadily during this decade. This new study from the University of Michigan shows the first decline in teen vaping since the practice has been tracked.

Just 12.5 percent of high school seniors reported using an e-cigarette in the past month, according to the new study. That’s down from 16.3 percent a year ago, when vaping surpassed smoking as the high schooler’s nicotine-delivery method of choice. For 8th graders the percentage of vapers was down to 6.2 percent compared with 8 percent last year.


But is this decline just a blip? Researchers also tracked other age groups and saw an identical decline, leading them to believe that this was part of a larger trend. Public health campaigns of the past few years have been warning of the dangers of vaping through TV and bus stop ads. And the Surgeon General came out just last week to say that teens shouldn’t vape. These messages are apparently having an impact, with a larger percentage of teenagers now saying that vaping is hazardous to a person’s health. About 18 percent of high school seniors say that vaping is bad for your health and the number only grows as you ask younger kids.

Some researchers aren’t convinced that health messages are the reason that we’re seeing a decline and simply believe that vaping is no longer cool.

“Whether adolescent vaping has peaked or only paused is something we will be able to determine in the coming years,” Richard Miech, a senior investigator in the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan said in a statement.

“In the past, we have seen new drugs follow a pattern in which use increases at a fast pace during a honeymoon period and then reverses course and declines as knowledge of the substance’s drawbacks became known,” Miech continued.


The two ideas (health messages and being cool) aren’t mutually exclusive, however. While communicating to teens about the health dangers of smoking used to be ineffective with generations like Gen X, so-called health effects marketing has been much more successful with Millennials.

Only time will tell, but when looking after your own health is cool, the use of drugs like nicotine may continue to decline, no matter if the delivery device is electronic or old school smoke.


[University of Michigan via Los Angeles Times]

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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It’s 100% because it’s no longer cool. Look at all the memes making fun of vaping. Teens care about that shit.