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Worrying vaping habit continues to rise, even as American cigarette-smoker numbers hit all-time low

During 2017-2018, e-cigarette use went up from 2.8% to 3.2%, a reversal of the decline seen during 2014-2017.
UPDATED FEB 20, 2020
(Source : Getty Images)
(Source : Getty Images)

E-cigarette use among Americans is on the rise, even as cigarette smoking among US adults has reached an all-time low of 13.7% in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The number of Americans using e-cigarette rose from 2.8% to 3.2% from 2017 to 2018. This is a worrying trend, say experts, in light of the lung injury outbreak in the US due to vaping. 

These estimates come at a time when the number of vaping-related illnesses across the country increased again this week. On Thursday, the CDC reported 2,172 lung injury cases and 42 deaths linked to e-cigarette or vape products.

The CDC is keeping an eye on the changing smoking trends in the country. “We remain dedicated to keeping pace with the evolving tobacco product landscape to ensure strong regulatory oversight in light of the increases in youth use of e-cigarette products in the US. What we don’t want to be doing is playing a game of public health whack-a-mole where we let the use of some products go up while others go down, particularly among the young adult population,” Brian King, deputy director for research translation in the CDC’s office on smoking and health, told CNBC News.

This decline in cigarette smoking, according to CDC Director Robert R Redfield, is due to a consistent and coordinated effort by the public health community and CDC's other partners. "Yet, our work is far from over. The health benefits of quitting smoking are significant, and we are committed to educating Americans about the steps they can take to become tobacco-free,” he adds.

Though cigarette smoking has shown a decline of approximately two-thirds in more than 50 years, new data released in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that nearly one in seven American adults smoke cigarettes. Smoking kills about 480,000 Americans every year, according to the CDC. The good news, according to the report, is more smokers are attempting to quit and are quitting successfully.

“On balance, over 34 million adults are smoking cigarettes, and we also have 50 million adults using some tobacco product,”  King told CNBC News. He adds that cigarette smoking disproportionately affects people with lower income and education levels, as well as minority groups and people with mental illnesses.

Commenting on the report, Dr Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary of Health and Acting FDA Commissioner, says, “The sustained drop in adult smoking is encouraging as we work to reduce tobacco-related disease and death in the US through science-driven policy, compliance and enforcement in addition to public education."

The increase in e-cigarette use among young adults rose from 5.2% in 2017 to 7.6% in 2018. (Getty Images)

The latest estimates are a result of a collaboration between CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Together, they examined data from the 2018 National Health Interview Survey, which factored in the rates of current cigarette smoking and current use for other tobacco products: cigars, cigarillos, filtered little cigars; pipes, water pipes, hookahs; e-cigarettes; and smokeless tobacco.

Their analysis found that 19.7% US adults currently used a tobacco product in 2018. Cigarettes continue to top the list, with 13.7% of Americans using the product. This was followed by cigars, cigarillos, or filtered little cigars (3.9%); e-cigarettes (3.2%); smokeless tobacco (2.4%); and pipes, water pipes, or hookahs (1%). They estimate that 83.8% adults reported using combustible products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes, or hookahs and 18.8% reported using two or more tobacco products.

Rise of e-cigarettes

The report points out that e-cigarette use among adults increased from 2.8% to 3.2%, a trend which showed a decline between 2014 and 2017. The rise in e-cigarette use in the last year is driven by young adults aged between 18 and 24. The increase in e-cigarette use among young adults rose from 5.2% in 2017 to 7.6% in 2018.

This rise in e-cigarette use in young adults is backed by another survey that was released in September by the Department of Health and Human Services. Their preliminary data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that 27.5% of high schoolers had vaped in the past 30 days in 2019, up from 20.8% the year before. With them gaining popularity, rates of cigarette smoking among teens plummeted: the rates dropped from 8.1% to 5.8% in the same time period.

It is just not e-cigarettes that are gaining a footing among young adults. The use of smokeless tobacco has increased from 2.1% to 2.4% during the same time period, says the report.