If an average high school class contains 30 students, at least seven of them were tobacco users in 2015, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit a middle school classroom of the same size, and about three of them regularly smoked, vaped or dipped.
That shakes out to around 4.7 million children and teenagers who use tobacco.
Even more problematic, the report states, “Tobacco use and addiction mostly begin during youth and young adulthood.”
“If current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans aged 18 [or under] who are alive today are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease,” the report states.
In 2015, with all the overwhelming scientific evidence of the inherent health risks, those numbers might seem strange – until one considers e-cigarettes.
Use of conventional cigarettes is actually down, but a drastic increase in e-cigarette usage among middle school and high school students from 2011 to 2015 – from 1.5 percent to 16 percent for high school students and from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent for middle school students – has evened out the numbers. In other words, kids are using a different type of tobacco, but the number of tobacco users in general has not fallen.
Three million high school and middle school students used e-cigarettes last year, according to information released by the CDC Thursday.
The rise isn’t new.
“Current e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014,” the CDC wrote in a press release last April, when the number of users jumped drastically from 660,000 to 2 million for high school students and from 120,000 to 450,000 middle school students.
“We’ve seen continued declines in tobacco use, but e-cigarette use is rising and that’s troubling,” Brian King, senior adviser with the office on smoking and health at the CDC, told The Post in November 2014.
E-cigarettes, which are designed to vaporize nicotine and imbue the smoke with various flavors, such as fruit, chocolate and bubble gum, generate an estimated $3.5 billion in annual sales in the U.S., The Post reported in August of last year.
Proponents of e-cigarettes claim they’re safer, since they don’t burn tobacco and thus don’t produce tar, but claims of safety are largely unsubstantiated.
“A growing number of studies find that some of the liquids used in e-cigarettes contain flavorings whose inhalation has been associated with lung problems, ranging from irritation to a rare but serious lung disease,” Sara Shipley Hiles wrote in The Post. “For example, diacetyl, a butter-flavored chemical, has been linked to dozens of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a life-threatening obstructive lung disease.”
Some e-cigarettes also contain the chemical propylene glycol. When heated, the propylene glycol can turn into formaldehyde, which is linked to an increased risk of asthma and cancer. The vapor can also contain metals like lead, cadmium, nickel and tin, which cause respiratory ailments.
And, of course, they contain nicotine.
“Nicotine is a highly addictive drug,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a press release in 2012, the first year an increase of e-cigarette usage was seen (reporting on e-cigarettes only began in 2011, and usage doubled by 2012). “Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”