Nearly 1-in-5 high school students now use e-cigarettes, study says

Tobacco use among those under the age of 18, on a nearly two-decade decline fueled by research showing its ill effects on the body and a subsequent flood of advertising on the subject, rose in 2017 largely due to the use of e-cigarettes.

In fact, almost one in five high school students now use the devices--almost twice as many users as regular cigarettes, according to a Minnesota Department of Health survey.

"Just as we successfully reduced cigarette use ... the industry responded with new products designed to get youth addicted to nicotine,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm in a statement Wednesday. "They threaten to reverse all of our success."

Since 2000, tobacco use dropped steadily from around 80 percent to an all-time low of less than 10 percent, giving Malcolm and other public health advocates hope that a smoke-free generation was within reach. The study found, however, that those who use e-cigarettes are almost twice as likely to start smoking regular cigarettes, with many even using the devices to smoke marijuana. 

Experts now advocate for measures such as raising the purchasing age to 21, restricting the sales of menthol and other flavored tobacco and bolstering funds for enforcement and compliance efforts.

“E-cigarette use is especially dangerous for youth,” said Dr. Peter Dehnel, a pediatrician and the medical director of Twin Cities Medical Society. “It provides a platform for illicit drugs and for nicotine, which we know is highly addictive and can harm brain development as teens grow, impairing learning, memory and attention.”