Even as e-cigarette makers pledge to combat the rise in youth vaping, a new study from the University of Michigan shows the rate of teen users who start by age 14 has tripled in recent years.
“We looked at national data of high school kids, and compared kids that were vaping in 2014 to kids that were vaping in 2018,” says Rebecca Evans-Polce, an assistant research scientist at the U of M School of Nursing and the study’s co-author.
“And we found that kids who vaping in 2014, about 10 percent of them reported starting at age 14 or younger. Well, in 2018, over one quarter, [about] 29% percent reported starting age 14 or younger. So among kids that are vaping, they seem to be starting at younger and younger ages.”
That trend could have significant implications for public health.
“We know that kids who start tobacco and nicotine products at earlier ages, are more likely to become addicted to both nicotine and potentially to other substances as well,” Evans-Polce says. “Also, exposing the brain to nicotine at these young ages can be particularly harmful to the brain. And then also we’ve all heard about the other health risks that have come out recently associated with vaping, including the recent respiratory illnesses among young people.”
This is likely a result of vaping’s growing popularity overall, she says, as well as marketing and flavors that directly appeal to younger adolescents. A separate study from researchers at Stanford found that Juul, the e-cigarette company, initially used marketing that was “patently youth oriented,” including a successful social media campaign. And additional research concluded teens who saw vaping ads in stores were twice as likely to start using.
“This just highlights that it’s really important to be talking to our kids about vaping and about the dangers of vaping, even at these younger ages, [and] that we might start those conversations even earlier than we might have thought,” Evans-Polce says. “Even, you know, 12, 13, 14 years old is certainly not too early.”