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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kim Kozlowski

For first time, nicotine vaping most-used substance among 8th and 10th graders

Nicotine vaping became the most common type of substance use among young people, according to a long-term national study headed by University of Michigan researchers.

For the past four years, nicotine vaping has surpassed alcohol and cannabis use among eighth grade students, said Richard Miech, principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future Study, which has been underway since 1975 to assess substance use among young people and adults. In 2022, 7% of eighth graders vaped nicotine in the past 30 days compared with 6% who used alcohol and 5% who used cannabis.

In 2021, there was a tie between nicotine vaping and alcohol use among 10th graders, said Miech, who is a research professor in UM's Institute for Social Research. But in 2022, nicotine vaping was higher among 10th graders: 14% vaped in the past 30 days compared with 13.6% who used alcohol and 12% who used cannabis.

"It's the first time we've seen both eighth and 10th grade where nicotine vaping beats all other forms of substance use," Miech said.

For 12th graders, alcohol was most often used in 2022, as it has been since the Monitoring the Future study first started nearly a half-century ago.

Nicotine vaping was first added to the study in 2017.

Nicotine vaping among adolescents spiked in 2018 and 2019, the most notable increase of any substance use throughout the history of the long-term study.

"These were the largest increases we've ever seen in 48 years for any substance that we've ever tracked," Miech said.

In 2019, then Michigan Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun declared a public health emergency over the increase in youth e-cigarette use and the state issued emergency rules banning the sales of flavored vape that officials argued sought to encourage youth use. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration initiated the rules to combat an uptick in youth e-cigarette use and was the first to announce such an initiative. Other states and then-President Donald Trump announced similar initiatives soon afterward.

But Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens issued a preliminary injunction stopping the emergency ban, arguing that there was "no genuine emergency" and that business called "A Clean Cigarette" would suffer "a unique loss to its business and to its branding" if the emergency rules were enforced, and an Upper Peninsula vape shop would suffer "irreparable harm" after the owner said he would lose his entire business.

In 2020, nicotine vaping plateaued among young people, and in 2021 and 2022 use went down slightly, as did the prevalence of alcohol and cannabis use.

The dip occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic when students were attending school remotely, Miech said.

"School is a pretty big risk factor for substance use," said Miech. "That's where the older kids are who use substances and encourage the younger kids to use them and that's where you can get substances from your school mates."

Other explanations is the vaping brand JUUL has been accused by consumers of marketing to children.

Nicotine vapes also used to come in many flavors attractive to youth, such as bubble gum, mint, and chocolate.

"The U.S. has banned such flavors in cigarettes, specifically because they attract children," said Miech. "In 2018 and 2019, no such bans on flavors in vaping devices were in place. Nowadays, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is working on enforcing such a ban for vaping products, although you can walk into any gas station or drug store and see all kinds of vaping flavors remain readily available."

A JUUL spokesman said in a statement that the company suspended all mass-market product advertising more than three years ago.

"While the recent Monitoring the Future data demonstrate that underage use of vapor products overall remains high, we are encouraged by recent federal (NYTS) data demonstrating that use of JUUL as a usual brand has fallen drastically since its peak in 2019, showing real progress in Juul Labs' ability to advance harm reduction for adult smokers while using data-driven measures to keep our products away from underage users," the JUUL statement said. "We will continue to work with stakeholders to combat underage use of vapor products and preserve access for adult smokers looking for an alternative to cigarettes."

"Juul Labs does not and has never sold flavors like bubblegum and chocolate. "

The Monitoring the Future study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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