A new government study indicates a sharp rise in the use of electronic cigarettes by adolescents, a trend officials at the Centers for Disease Control said they found alarming due to the possible adverse effects of nicotine on the developing brain.
The percentage of high-school students who said they had used an e-cigarette within the last 30 days jumped to 4.5% in a 2013 CDC survey, up from 2.8% in 2012. The rate among middle-school students was flat at 1.1%. The percentage of high-school students who had ever tried e-cigs for the first time rose to nearly 12% from 10%. Among middle-school students it rose to 3% from 2.7%.
The findings come from the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, a questionnaire given annually to roughly 20,000 students.
By contrast, cigarette and cigar use among the age groups declined slightly, according to the study. Overall tobacco use among youth was roughly flat compared with last year at around 23% for high-school students and 6.5% for middle school students.
The findings published Thursday come as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration works to finalize rules that would possibly ban sales of the devices, which turn nicotine-laced liquid into vapor, to anyone under 18. In April, the agency proposed the first federal regulations on e-cigarettes, one of which is to ban sales. It is in the process of reviewing public comments before finalizing the rules. The FDA didn’t propose banning Internet sales, limiting flavors or restricting ads.
Though e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is addictive, most researchers say they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes because they don’t release toxins through combustion like traditional cigarettes. E-cigarette advocates say vapor devices, whose U.S. sales are estimated to reach $2.5 billion this year, help smokers quit traditional cigarettes. But public-health officials remain concerned about the effect e-cigarettes could have on youth.
The 2014 Surgeon General’s report found that nicotine can hurt developing adolescent brains.
an epidemiologist with the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said, “Electronic products are not risk free because they contain nicotine, and we know it’s dangerous.”
Dr. King said the increase in the use of e-cigarettes “isn’t particularly surprising” because the products are advertised on TV and come in kid-friendly flavors like chocolate and cherry. Unlike cigarettes, they also can be smoked indoors in public places in most states, which can make their use seem normal to young people.
Though there is no research into youth gravitating from e-cigarettes to traditional cigarettes, public-health officials remain concerned that will happen because the products are similar. A previous CDC study of e-cigarette use showed that one in five middle school students who tried e-cigarettes had never tried traditional cigarettes.
director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement the latest surveys on youth tobacco, including e-cigarettes, “is a concern. Any use of a tobacco or a nicotine-containing product by young people is detrimental to public health.”
Youth use of e-cigarettes has been a cause of concern among U.S. legislators. Six U.S. senators sent the FDA a letter last month urging it to put stronger warning labels on e-cigarettes. The Democratic senators previously introduced legislation that would ban marketing e-cigarettes to minors.
E-cigarette makers say they don’t target youth in their marketing. E-cigarette makers like Blu, which is owned by
Inc., limit their advertising to adult-focused programming on cable TV, and others, like Logic, an independent manufacturer, advertise on radio to age-verified audiences older than 21.
which is in the process of a national rollout for its e-cigarette Vuse, requires retailers keep it behind the counter and limit sales to adults. It also has supported legislation at the state level that limits tobacco sales to adults.
“We believe that is the right thing to do, and as part of our efforts of leading the transformation of the industry, our companies are committed to accelerating the decline of youth tobacco use,” Reynolds spokesman
Write to Tripp Mickle at Tripp.Mickle@wsj.com