By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, Nov. 15, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- More than 20 percent of high school students use electronic cigarettes, risking nicotine addiction, lung damage and the temptation to try traditional smokes, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.
Between 2011 and 2018, the number of high school teens who started vaping, as e-cigarette use is called, increased from 220,000 (1.5 percent) to just over 3 million (20.8 percent), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"These new data show that America faces an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which threatens to engulf a new generation in nicotine addiction," Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), said in a news release.
Those startling statistics have prompted federal health officials to take action.
On Thursday, U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb announced that his agency was seeking to stop the sale of flavored e-cigarettes other than mint and menthol flavors to minors.
His proposals include having stores that sell vaping products make them available only in age-restricted areas. In addition, Gottlieb called for stricter age verification for e-cigarettes sold online.
"By one measure, the rate of youth e-cigarette use almost doubled in the last year, which confirms the need for FDA's ongoing policy proposals and enforcement actions. HHS's work will continue to balance the need to prevent youth use of e-cigarettes with ensuring they are available as an off-ramp for adults who are trying to quit combustible [tobacco] cigarettes," Azar said.
The findings were reported in the Nov. 16 issue of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"The youth use of e-cigarettes is at an epidemic level. It's truly troubling," said Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association.
E-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking regular cigarettes, she said. Moreover, chemicals in them can cause lung damage and result in addiction to nicotine.
According to the new report, e-cigarette use among high school students increased 78 percent from 2017 to 2018.
During the same year, the use of flavored e-cigarettes among high school students already using e-cigarettes increased from 61 percent to 68 percent.
In addition, the use of menthol or mint-flavored e-cigarettes rose from 42 percent of all e-cigarette users to 51 percent.
E-cigarette use also increased among middle school students, from less than 1 percent in 2011 to nearly 5 percent in 2018, researchers found.
"FDA has to act, but we also need state and local government to act as well," Sward said. "This is too big for everybody not to have a role in reducing the use of e-cigarettes."
Sward said the lung association is upset that the FDA stopped short of banning mint and menthol e-cigarettes. "FDA's plan is not going to go far enough," she noted.
Many teens use mint and menthol e-cigarettes, which Sward believes are specifically marketed to attract minors.
"The tobacco industry knows that mint and menthol help the poison go down," she said. "And they have been using menthol cigarettes to addict millions of people for decades, and that trend has tragically continued with e-cigarettes."