WASHINGTON – This year many American students were forced to learn from home during the pandemic, according to a government report released Thursday.
US health officials urged caution in interpreting the numbers, which were first collected using online questionnaires. But outside experts said the big reduction in electronic cigarette use is likely to be real and that young people are often socially raped.
“They found a dramatic drop from last year and it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t represent a real reduction in use among high school and middle school students,” said Dr. Nancy Rigotti of Harvard University.
In the national survey, less than 11% of high school students and less than 3% of middle school students said they had been a recent user of e-cigarettes and other vaping products, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
That’s about 40% less than last year, when about 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students said they had recently vaped.
If this year’s numbers continue, it will be the second consecutive major drop for high school students in 2019 from a peak of 28%.
Even before the pandemic, many of the new restrictions were reducing the use of e-cigarettes. In late 2019, a new federal law raised the purchase age for all tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. Soon after, the FDA banned nearly all flavors from the small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes that first sparked the teen vaping craze.
In addition, some children may have been frightened by outbreaks of vaping-related diseases and deaths; Most were tied to a filler on the black market that contained THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes users feel high.
For months, tobacco experts have speculated about the potential impact of school closures on vaping, as most teens rape their friends and obtain e-cigarettes from their peers.
Rigotti said the decline would have to be confirmed by other surveys due later this year. It is also hard to predict whether vaping could rebound now that most schools have returned to individual classrooms.
“I’m sure schools are working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she said.
Previously, surveys were always conducted in classrooms. This was done online from January to May this year so that students can be accommodated both at home and at school. Anti-tobacco advocates say that students who completed the survey at school reported higher rates of vaping – 16% compared to 8% for students learning at home.
Overall, government officials estimate that nearly two million American teens and teens are vaping, according to them the number is much higher. “E-cigarette use among youth remains a serious public health concern,” CDC expert Dr Karen Hacker said in a statement.
Thursday’s report comes as the FDA moves to potentially impose even bigger limits on the vaping industry. After years of regulatory delays, the agency is in the midst of an extensive federal review to decide which e-cigarette brands and products can stay on the market.
Earlier this month, the agency announced a ban on thousands of products, but it has yet to rule on some of the major manufacturers that account for the majority of sales, including Juul and Vuse.
New government figures show teen vaping habits are shifting away from those brands. The top brand cited by high school students is a disposable e-cigarette called Puff Bar that comes in flavors like pink lemonade, strawberry and mango. Disposable e-cigarettes are not subject to the stringent flavor restrictions of products such as Juul, which is available only in menthol and tobacco. Only 6% of the students said that they like Juul.
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