Teenagers are taking up vaping nicotine and marijuana at an unprecedented clip, even as Generation Z continues to move away from drugs and tobacco use more generally.
More than 1 in 3 high school seniors reported having tried an electronic nicotine vaporizer such as a Juul, and more than 1 in 5 has vaped nicotine in the last month, according to the 2018 Monitoring the Future survey. The nationally representative survey program has tracked drug and alcohol use nationally among 12th graders for more than four decades and among 8th and 10th graders for nearly three decades. But vaping has only been part of the survey since 2015.
The percentage of students who reported vaping nicotine in the last 30 days doubled or nearly doubled among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders since 2017, representing some of the largest single-year jumps ever recorded in the survey. Vaping single-handedly caused a significant increase in recent nicotine use among 12th graders, from less than 24 percent in 2017 to 28.5 percent this year. By contrast, high schoolers’ use of other nicotine products—cigarettes and cigars, chewing tobacco, or hookahs among them—fell from last year.
“Vaping is reversing hard-fought declines in the number of adolescents who use nicotine,” said Richard Miech, the principal investigator of the study for the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, in a statement. “The policies and procedures in place to prevent youth vaping clearly haven’t worked. ... Because the vaping industry is quickly evolving, new additional vaping-specific strategies may well be needed in the years ahead in order to keep vaping devices out of the hands of youth.”
Last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration moved to tighten age-verifications for buying cigarettes and vaping devices, and restrict the sale of flavored nicotine liquids to stores with adults-only areas, removing them from most convienence stores. And a leading producer of vaping devices said it would change its marketing campaigns to avoid targeting young people.
In recent years, school administrators have scrambled to counter the spread of vaping in general and the specific popularity of Juul, a cheap, USB-sized vaping product that has come to dominate the market. One Juul cartridge contains about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes and comes in kid-friendly flavors such as caramel and mango.
In fact, the survey found that, among grades 8, 10, and 12 combined, students also increasingly vape nicotine-free flavored liquid, suggesting that they either don’t know what is in a vaping device or that they want to seem as though they are using a drug without actually doing so.
Source: 2018 Monitoring the Future.
“The easy concealability of the latest vaping devices,” Miech said, “better allows youth to vape without adults knowing about it. If we want to prevent youth from using drugs, including nicotine, vaping will warrant special attention in terms of policy, education campaigns, and prevention programs in the coming years.”
Eighty percent of 12th graders and 46 percent of 8th graders reported they could easily get vaping devices, more this year than last year. The social stigma against vaping likewise has fallen in the last year, though a large majority of students at all three grades still disapprove of doing so and consider it harmful.
Other Drug Use
While vaping is an increasing concern for educators, the survey also suggests its growth is an anomaly amid long-term declines in many of the drugs that previously plagued middle and high schools. Since 2017, more 12th graders reported they could easily get hallucinogens such as LSD, as well as crack and powdered forms of cocaine. However, use of those drugs was flat or fell slightly during that time. And compared to a decade ago, fewer students across the grades reported binge-drinking (or getting drunk at all), smoking cigarettes, or using steroids, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, or the drug known as ecstasy or MDMA.
The survey is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
JUULs are easy to hide, have a flavored smell, and don’t emit much vapor. So how is a teacher to know if a student is JUULing, or vaping, in class?