E-cigarette usage among high school students has surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes, according to a recent study released by the University’s Institute for Social Research.
The survey, which compiled responses from more than 40,000 students, has been conducted annually since 1975. In addition to cigarette usage, it monitors alcohol and illicit drug prevalence among designated age groups. This was the first year that e-cigarettes were added to the survey.
E-cigarettes, known as or e-cigs, have emerged in recent years as an alternative to traditional smoking. These battery-powered devices deliver nicotine and other substances in an aerosolized or vapor form, sometimes with flavoring or other additives.
In a press release, Richard Miech, a research professor at the ISR, said e-cigarettes are popular with young demographics in part because they are not perceived as harmful to health. As the product is still fairly new, a comprehensive assessment of impact on health has yet to be performed.
Currently, there are no regulations in the state to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies them as a tobacco product, but state and local regulation has yet to keep pace with the rates of use, particularly among younger demographics.
The most recent findings state that 8th and 10th graders were more than twice as likely to have smoked an e-cigarette in the past 30 days than a traditional cigarette, with the percentages of students using e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes at 9 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
Twelfth graders were more likely than the younger students to use both methods, with 13.6 percent using traditional cigarettes and 17.1 percent using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
In the press release, Lloyd Johnston, the project’s principal investigator and Distinguished Senior Research Scientist at ISR, said the recent emergence of e-cigarettes may be one reason older students observe less difference between them and traditional cigarettes.
“Twelfth-graders may not have had the opportunity to begin using them when they were younger,” he said. “Future surveys should be able to tell us if that is the case.”
Traditional cigarette usage fell about two percent for 10th and 12th grade students from 2013 to 2014. Ninth grade students saw a lesser decrease of 0.5 percent.
Critics of e-cigarettes claim they are poorly regulated and do not — as proponents state — help individuals quit smoking.
“Michigan should not follow the example of other states whose e-cigarette laws have been written by Big Tobacco,” Douglas wrote. “It should stand up for public health and enact stronger laws that effectively regulate e-cigarettes for health and safety.”
In April, the Ann Arbor City Council approved an ordinance making outdoor smoking in certain public locations illegal. In a surprise move to Douglas and others, the ordinance included e-cigarettes in the ban, following recommendations put forth by Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1).
In addition to anti-smoking and anti-tobacco campaigns, a growing number of universities nationwide have also starting to regulate e-cigarettes. Of the 1,477 campuses that are currently smoke-free, 292 have banned e-cigarettes, according to data from the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative. However, in a September interview, Douglas said the number is quickly growing as regulations begin to take effect.
The University has been smoke-free since 2011, but that policy was adopted before e-cigarettes were widely used and therefore does not make specific mention of them. However, the University of Michigan Health System and the University’s Dental School have both independently banned use of e-cigarettes, Douglas said.