Heads up, parents: E-cig use in teens could be on the rise again after decline during pandemic

ATLANTA — A new study found fewer young people used e-cigarettes during the pandemic. But as Channel 2′s Sophia Choi learned vaping remains very popular and there’s concern more teens will pick up the habit.

“Some kids vape like in the parking lot or sometimes switching between classes,” said Trace Chestnut a Senior at Midtown High School in Atlanta. “I feel like it’s a trend. Well, I’ve heard some people do it because they like to see the smoke come out of their mouths,” said Braeshae Harper also a Senior at Midtown High School. Both do not vape but said they see students do it all the time. “I feel like it’s popular because they see a lot more like influencers do it and like older people,” said Chestnut.

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A new study by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found two million U.S. middle and high school students reported currently using e-cigarettes in 2021. The CDC says most contain nicotine which is highly addictive and can harm a young person’s developing brain.

Ruoyan Sun an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been digging into the CDC’s numbers from the National Youth Tobacco Survey. “We do see a decrease in adolescent vaping in 2020,” said Sun.

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She looked at adolescent nicotine use from 1999 to 2020 which included the beginning of the pandemic. Sun believes part of the decrease is due to media coverage of the harmful effects of e-cigarette use and the Covid-19 lockdown. “Because if kids have stayed at home for school, I would assume that the vaping behavior would have decreased,” said Sun.

The CDC’s new study found of those who vape, 85 percent are using flavored e-cigarettes. “But these come in 15,000 kid friendly flavors, things like mango, strawberry, gummy bear, cotton candy. These are not flavors that are intended to appeal to adults. They’re specifically intended to appeal to children,” said Laurie Rubiner the Executive Vice President of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, a non-profit working to reduce tobacco and e-cigarette use.

The FDA is currently considering bans on many flavored e-cigarettes. Gregory Conley the President of the American Vaping Association is opposed to bans, citing research that found a ban on flavors in San Francisco backfired. “When you ban flavors in vaping products, you end up advantaging traditional combustible cigarettes, that’s bad for public health,” said Conley.

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But students told Channel 2′s Sophia Choi they aren’t worried about that. “I feel like if there wasn’t vapes people would probably go do other things, but I don’t think smoking cigarettes is one of them,” said Harper.

When it comes to getting teens to say no to vaping, Greg Wieczorek President of the National Association of Secondary School Principals said using peer pressure works. He has trained students how to talk to their classmates about the dangers of vaping. “Now instead of having a teacher or instead of having your counselor and having the principal standing up there telling them why they shouldn’t do this, now they’re having someone who’s their peer or peer who’s a little bit older who they look up to and tell them why they shouldn’t do it,” said Wieczorek.

Vaping devices can be easy to hide, so how can parents tell if their kids are using? Wieczorek said to look for changes in a child’s behavior and friends. The CDC also recommends talking to your kids about vaping.