Vaping Rates Double Among Teens, While Opioid Use Declines

By Kelly Burch 12/19/18

Results from the 2018 Monitoring The Future survey show that teens have turned to vaping nicotine and marijuana and away from binge drinking and opioid use. 

teen girl vaping  an e-cig outside

The percentage of teens who reported vaping nicotine nearly doubled this year, representing the largest increase in use of a substance since the national Monitoring the Future study began. 

“To put the nicotine vaping increase in context, it is the largest out of more than one thousand reported year-to-year changes since 1975 for use of substances within the 30 days prior to the survey,” according to a press release from the University of Michigan, which conducts the annual survey of about 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders. 

About 20% of high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days. In addition, more than a quarter of teens reported vaping “just flavoring,” but researchers believe these students may be confused or ill-informed about what they’re consuming, since many popular vaping devices don’t have nicotine-free options. Marijuana vaping also increased. 

“Teens are clearly attracted to the marketable technology and flavorings seen in vaping devices; however, it is urgent that teens understand the possible effects of vaping on overall health; the development of the teen brain; and the potential for addiction,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said. “Research tells us that teens who vape may be at risk for transitioning to regular cigarettes, so while we have celebrated our success in lowering their rates of tobacco use in recent years, we must continue aggressive educational efforts on all products containing nicotine.”

Overall, 28.5% of high school seniors reported using nicotine of some variety in the past 30 days. Tobacco use was down slightly in 2018 but not a statistically significant amount. This shows that prevention efforts need to target teens who may see vaping as a safe alternative to smoking. 

“Vaping is reversing hard-fought declines in the number of adolescents who use nicotine,” said Richard Miech, the lead author and investigator of the study. “These results suggest that vaping is leading youth into nicotine use and nicotine addiction, not away from it.”

He said vaping is popular because it is easy to conceal. 

“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,” Miech said.

The survey found that binge drinking and use of opioids and tranquilizers decreased significantly, while use of other drugs, including meth, marijuana and molly remained stable. 

“With illicit opioid use at generally the lowest in the history of the survey, it is possible that being in high school offers a protective effect against opioid misuse and addiction,” Volkow said. “We will be focusing much of our new prevention research on the period of time when teens transition out of school into the adult world and become exposed to the dangerous use of these drugs.” 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.