Survey data indicating teen e-cig use is down may be flawed due to a loophole in flavor ban.
As mental health and substance use woes plague the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic, recent findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing e-cigarette use among teens may be on the decline is likely flawed due to a loophole in the system which allows minors to get access to these products. While the numbers went down slightly, according to the federal agency’s survey, the reduction in use has been stalled by the presence of a new line of disposable e-cigarettes.
“The survey results represent a promising turn for public health, but youth e-cigarette use remains an epidemic,” Robert Redfield, CDC Director, explained. Disposable options, under a loophole in federal regulations, can still include appealing flavors.
In 2018, studies revealed, at high concentrations, many flavors damaged cells and led to a loss of nitric oxide, making them dangerous when inhaled. Lead study author Jessica Fetterman of Boston University School of Medicine said at the time, “The loss of nitric oxide is important because it has been associated with heart disease outcomes like heart attacks and strokes. It is one of the first changes we observe in the blood vessels in the progression to heart disease and serves as an early indicator of toxicity. Our study suggests that the flavoring additives, on their own in the absence of the other combustion products or components, cause cardiovascular injury.”
The 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey shed light on this growing public health concern when it took an annual look at teen use of tobacco-related products. The CDC’s efforts were also less extensive this year due to complications in administering and collecting survey data due to COVID-19.
The agency did find “among high school students, 19.6 percent reported using an e-cigarette at least once in the prior 30 days, down sharply from 27.5 percent in 2019. That amounted to a decline of 1 million regular users – to 3 million, down from 4.1 million a year earlier.” What’s more, “self-reported use of e-cigarettes also decreased among middle school students, to 550,000 users from 1.24 million. E-cigarette use had been growing consistently since 2011, though both groups saw a dip between 2105 and 2016.”
The potential reduction of use could have stemmed from efforts to highlight the risks of e-cigarettes as well as associated fatalities. The CDC found “68 people died and 2,807 had been hospitalized” as of February 2020 due to a lung-related condition induced by vaping. Many of these deaths were linked to inhaling cannabis, but some of those hospitalized had only vaped nicotine.
Because the Trump’s administrations ban of flavor e-cigs does not include disposables, however, sales of these products have gone up among teens, according to National Youth survey data, which suggested it was up “1,000 percent. I n 2020, 26.5 percent of regular high school e-cigarette users said they had used disposable products over the last 30 days, compared to 2.4 percent a year earlier.” Also, “eight in 10 youth users said they were vaping fruit and mint-flavored e-cigarettes.”
“The decline is good news, but it is really a historic opportunity missed,” said Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.