Photo: AP

An annual survey that tracks drug use by American teenagers found that smoking, binge drinking, and abuse of prescription drugs is way down. But teen vaping is up—and not just a little bit. Vaping is way up.

The study, conducted by the University of Michigan, asked roughly 45,000 American teens about their use of substances over the past 30 days, and drug use is down in almost every category. But the number of teens who vape nicotine and marijuana has skyrocketed over the past year, showing some of the largest jumps of any category since the survey began in the 1970s.

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The number of high school seniors who vape nicotine has almost doubled from just 11 percent last year to 21 percent this year. Marijuana vaping was also up from last year in that same age group, with 7.5 percent of 12th graders reporting that they’ve vaped weed in the past 30 days, up from 4.9 percent last year. High school seniors were also the most likely to use marijuana generally, with roughly 1 in 4 reporting that they’d smoked weed at least once in the past year. About 1 in 17 high school seniors report using marijuana daily.

“Vaping is making substantial inroads among adolescents, no matter the substance vaped,” Richard Miech, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “In 2018 we saw substantial increases in vaping across all substances, including nicotine, marijuana, and adolescents who reported vaping ‘just flavoring.’”

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“Factors that make vaping so attractive to youth include its novelty and the easy concealability of the latest vaping devices, which better allows youth to vape without adults knowing about it,” Miech continued. “If we want to prevent youth from using drugs, including nicotine, vaping will warrant special attention in terms of policy, education campaigns, and prevention programs in the coming years.”

On the younger side of the spectrum, the rates of vaping were lower, but the increases were nearly as dramatic. Nicotine vaping jumped among 8th graders from 3.5 percent last year to 6.1 percent this year. Tenth graders also saw huge jumps in nicotine vaping, from 8 percent last year to a whopping 16 percent this year. It was the largest jump of substance use ever seen for 10th graders since the survey started in 1975.

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The good news? Both binge drinking and teen opioid use are way down over the past decade. American 12th graders who misuse prescription opioids is at 3.4 percent, down from a peak of 9.5 percent in 2004. The abuse of tranquilizers was also down, with just 3.9 percent of 12th graders misusing the drugs, down from a peak of 7.7 percent in 2002.

Teen smoking is also way down. Just 3.6 percent of high school seniors smoke traditional tobacco on a daily basis, down from 22.4 percent just a couple of decades ago.

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But teen vaping is obviously going to get the most media attention as traditional tobacco companies continue to pivot to vaping as a means of shoring up profits that may be lost as older smokers die off.

“The policies and procedures in place to prevent youth vaping clearly haven’t worked,” Miech said. “We need new policies and strategies, such as the FDA’s actions announced last month to curb the sales of the JUUL-branded vaping devices.”

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“Because the vaping industry is quickly evolving, new, additional, vaping-specific strategies may well be needed in the years ahead in order to keep vaping devices out of the hands of youth.”

[University of Michigan]

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