As Maine weighs e-cigarette limits, ‘vaping’ among U.S. teens triples

E-cigarettes on display in London on June 9, 2013.       REUTERS/Toby Melville

E-cigarettes on display in London on June 9, 2013. Toby Melville | Reuters

Add this to the list of electronics consuming teenagers’ attention: cigarettes.

Use of electronic cigarettes tripled among American middle and high school students over the course of just one year, from 2013 to 2014, according to new data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics come as many states, including Maine, seek limits on the devices and better understanding of the health risks they pose.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scrambled to devise regulations for e-cigarettes. The agency is just now finalizing a rule that would give it authority over the devices. State law prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 18.

E-cigarettes are now the most popular nicotine product among middle and high schoolers, the new data show.

The battery-operated devices contain a small heating element that vaporizes liquid nicotine, which users inhale, or “vape.” Many e-cigarettes come in a variety of flavors, like fruit or chocolate.

E-cigarette companies are not yet subject to the same marketing restrictions as traditional cigarette companies. (Courtesy Fotolia | TNS)

E-cigarette companies are not yet subject to the same marketing restrictions as traditional cigarette companies. (Courtesy Fotolia | TNS)

Last year, 13.4 percent of U.S. high school students used e-cigarettes, according to the CDC. Their ranks swelled from 660,000 in 2013 (4.5 percent) to 2 million last year. That’s plenty more than smoke conventional cigarettes, which are dropping in popularity. The share of high schoolers smoking traditional tobacco fell to 9 percent in 2014 from 16 percent in 2011.

The news is similarly worrying among U.S. middle school students. While still fairly uncommon in that age group, e-cigarette use more than tripled from 1.1 percent in 2013 to 3.9 percent in 2014 — a jump from about 120,000 to 450,000 students. Traditional smoking held steady at 2.5 percent.

Equally as surprising to me (though I don’t spend much time with teenagers), is that the newest nicotine product on the market is catching on alongside one of the oldest. Use of hookah pipes roughly doubled for middle and high school students during the same time period. More than 9 percent of high schoolers and 2.5 percent of middle schooler used hookahs in 2014.

“We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a news release. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”


E-cigarette cartridges have sparked concerns about poisonings in small children and misuse among adults. With concentrated liquid nicotine, the potential dangers lie not only with inhalation or ingestion, but also through contact with the skin.

While e-cigarettes release addictive nicotine, they lack tar and other chemicals found in conventional cigarettes. Many experts believe they’re probably less hazardous to health than smoking tobacco, but the vapor still contains toxins, according to the CDC and World Health Organization. The WHO warns that e-cigarettes pose serious risks for teenagers and unborn babies.



Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.