E-Cigarette, Hookah Use Rises Among U.S. Teens as Cigarette Use Falls

By | April 17, 2015

Electronic cigarette use tripled and hookah use doubled among U.S. teenagers in 2014, even as fewer of them light up traditional cigarettes, according to a government survey published Thursday.

For the first time, more high-school students puffed on e-cigarettes last year—13.4%—than regular smokes—9.2%. They also tried hookahs, or water pipes, as often as traditional cigarettes for the first time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette usage has been declining among teens for decades.

The findings from the nationwide survey of more than 20,000 high-school and middle-school students could accelerate federal efforts to increase oversight of alternative nicotine products.

The Food and Drug Administration, which has regulated traditional cigarettes since 2009, last year proposed regulations for cigars, e-cigarettes and hookahs that have yet to be implemented.

“These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why the FDA intends to regulate those additional products to protect public health,”

Mitch Zeller,

head of the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement Thursday.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat nicotine-laced liquid, turning it into a vapor. They are widely viewed by tobacco researchers to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which release dozens of carcinogens through combustion.

But health authorities say it is too early to know the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes and warn that nicotine can adversely affect brain development among adolescents.

“Nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age,” CDC Director

Tom Frieden

said in a statement.

E-cigarettes are available in dozens of flavors including fruit and candy, unlike traditional regulated cigarettes, where menthol is the only permitted flavor. They are also advertised on television, unlike traditional smokes, which haven’t been allowed in TV commercials since 1971.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey asked high-school and middle-school students whether they had used various forms of tobacco over the past 30 days. Among high-school students, 13.4% used an e-cigarette in 2014, up from 4.5% in 2013. The percentage among middle-school students rose to 3.9% from 1.1%.

Hookah use, which is typically done in groups, rose to 9.4% from 5.2% among high-school students over the period, and to 2.5% from 1.1% among middle-school students, according to the CDC.

By contrast, only 9.2% of high-school students had tried a traditional cigarette in 2014 at least once in 30 days, down from 12.7% in 2013. Usage among middle-school students dropped to 2.5% from 2.9%.

The CDC has warned that hookahs are at least as toxic as cigarettes. Hookahs typically feature a head, metal body, water bowl and a hose with a mouthpiece. The large contraption is used for smoking tobacco that comes in different flavors such as mint, licorice and cappuccino.

Write to Mike Esterl at mike.esterl@wsj.com

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