E-cigarettes have arrived in the life of the American teenager. Usage of the devices among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to federal data released on Thursday, with the share of high school students who use them at 13 percent nationally. This number is more than traditional cigarettes.
The dramatic rise along with a substantial increase in the use of hookah pipes, led to 400,000 additional young people using a tobacco products in 2014. About 25 percent of all highschoolers and 8 percent of middle schoolers used tobacco products in some form last year.
Among high school students e-cigarette use is growing rapidly, while the use of cigarettes and cigars, is declining.
The numbers were a surprise and put policy makers into uncharted territory. The FDA took its first step toward regulating e-cigarettes last year, but the process is slow with habits forming far faster than rules are being written. Because e-cigarettes are so new, little is known about their long-term health effects, leaving regulators lacking the data they need to make effective policy choices.
The silver lining in the new data is that the share of high school students who smoked traditional cigarettes declined substantially, to 9 percent from 16 percent, and use of cigars and pipes slowed too. This suggests that some teenage smokers may be using e-cigarettes to quit.
Smoking is the single biggest cause of preventable death in America, killing more than 480,000 Americans a year. Most scientists agree that e-cigarettes, which deliver the nicotine but not the dangerous tar and other chemicals, are likely to be far less harmful than traditional cigarettes.