More than 2.5 million middle and high school students vape despite federal efforts to crack down on a new generation of flavored products that appeal to underage users, an annual survey of underage electronic cigarette use shows.
The 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students used these nicotine-delivering devices at least once over the past 30 days. A year ago, the survey showed 11.3% high school and 2.8% middle school students reported past-month vaping. However, federal officials said survey changes make it difficult to compare this year's survey to prior years.
While the figures remain far below 2019, when more than one quarter of high school students vaped, anti-tobacco groups urged federal regulators to step up efforts to eliminate flavored vaping products popular among teens.
"It is unacceptable that over 2.5 million kids still use e-cigarettes when there is a clear solution to the problem – eliminate all flavored e-cigarettes," said Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit that works to reduce tobacco use.
What do teen vapers use?
The Food and Drug Administration banned flavored vaping products derived from tobacco, but underage users have increasingly turned to synthetic nicotine products, often disposable and sold in flavors favored by underage vapers.
The survey, conducted Jan.18 through May 31, reported 85% of teen vapers said they used flavored e-cigarettes and more than half used disposable e-cigarettes.
Unlike in 2019 when the Silicon Valley-based JUUL was the most recognizable brand, teens reported a wide variety of favored brands. In June, FDA sought to ban Juul's vaping and e-cigarette products but paused the ban less than two weeks later to allow for additional review.
Among teens who vape, 14.5% reported using Puff Bar and 12.5% cited Vuse as usual brands. However, more than 1 in 5 school-age vapers said they used a brand other than 13 listed on the survey. The wider range of flavored e-cigarettes is evidence that cracking down on some flavored products won't end underage vaping, experts said.
"Flavored products have driven this epidemic from the beginning," said Dennis Henigan, vice president for legal and regulatory affairs of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Kids will move to whatever brands are still available in the flavors that they like."
Deirdre Lawrence Kittner, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's office on smoking and health, said the study shows teens continue to be "enticed and hooked by an expanding variety" of flavored e-cigarette brands.
“Our work is far from over. It’s critical that we work together to prevent youth from starting to use any tobacco product – including e-cigarettes – and help all youth who do use them, to quit,” Kittner said.
How does the FDA regular regulate these products?
In recent years, vaping companies began selling nicotine made in a lab rather than from tobacco. Anti-tobacco groups say companies turned to these products to avoid the FDA's ban on flavored e-cigarettes derived from tobacco.
A law passed by Congress gave makers of synthetic nicotine products until May 14 to apply to market these products. Companies that failed to get authorization by July 13 are selling the products illegally, according to the FDA.
Earlier this year, the FDA warned synthetic nicotine manufacturers and retailers about unlawful sales and marketing of these products.
Erika Sward, the American Lung Association's assistant vice president of national advocacy, said the FDA's enforcement should target companies that make and distribute flavored products rather than small retailers.
"Until we deal with the root cause – wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors – we're going to continue in this cycle," of youth vaping, Sward said.
Others said the report shows the importance of extending help to underage users hooked on nicotine-delivering devices.
Robin Koval, President and CEO of Truth Initiative, said teen users who want to quit can text DITCHVAPE to 88709 to sign up for program to help them discontinue vaping.
Ken Alltucker is on Twitter at @kalltucker, or can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Millions of teens still vape, use flavored e-cigarettes, survey finds