Use of e-cigarette devices dropped during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study finds.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, found that usage of the devices dropped seven percent overall from 2018 to 2020 – including a 17 percent drop among people 18 to 20 in particular.
It is a reversal of the trend of increasing e-cigarette use that had many officials sounding alarms over. President Joe Biden has even prioritized restrictions of the devices during the first half of his presidency.
Regulators have cracked down on the devices that have largely been blamed for recent increases in teen nicotine use. Data from minors was not included in this study.
Researchers found that overall use of e-cigarettes dropped in 2020 when compared to 2018, with the decreases fueled by the 18 to 20 age group
Researchers, who published their findings Friday in JAMA Network Open, gathered data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for the study.
The survey included a total of 994,307 respondents, each of which answered whether they were users of the devices, and how often they vaped.
In 2017, 4.4 percent of U.S. adults reported use of an e-cigarette. The figure climbed 25 percent to 5.5 percent in 2018.
Researchers blame flavored e-cigarettes for this rise, noting that it was largest among younger people.
‘This increase, primarily observed in younger age groups, was associated with the concurrent rise in the availability of flavored products and high nicotine–concentration pod mod devices (modular vaping devices with refillable or replaceable nicotine cartridges, or pods, such as JUUL brand devices),’ they wrote in the study.
Data from 2019 was not gathered. In 2020, overall usage of e-cigarettes fell to 5.1 percent, a seven percent drop from two years earlier.
The most dramatic shift was seen among people aged 18 to 20 years old – the youngest group included in the study.
Devices like JUULs have largely been blamed for recent upticks in teen tobacco usage due to their fruity flavors and an easy way to carry and use them without detection (file photo)
Nearly one-in-five, or 19 percent, of people in the age group reported to the study that they had used an e-cigarette in the past year in 2018.
That figure had fallen 17 percent to 15.6 percent by 2020, a significant fall in only two years.
The age just above then, 21 to 24, saw a dramatic increase in use of the devices, though.
Despite the drop, this was still the age group the reported the most prevalent use of the controversial devices.
Still, though, researchers believe this is a sign that some restrictions on access to the devices are making an impact.
‘The modest reduction in e-cigarette use, particularly among adults younger than 21 years, may be an early sign of the consequences of several recently implemented federal and state policies,’ they wrote.
The team highlights the December 2019 shift in the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 up to 21.
Public information campaigns on the dangers of e-cigarettes and nicotine addiction in general could have played a role as well.
The debate surrounding e-cigarettes has raged on in recent months, after the FDA banned flavored nicotine cartridges in February 2020.
To stay on shelves, companies had to individually apply to be allowed on the market.
Juul Labs, whose products became the face of the dangerous underage smoking trend after they shot to popularity in the 2010s, had its application rejected by the FDA last month.
It has appealed the decision, and received a stay in the meanwhile that allows it to continue sale in America.
‘[The bans last year] will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,’ the FDA wrote in a statement last year.
‘With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation.’
To get around these orders, many companies started to use synthetic forms of the drug in their devices to circumvent regulators. That loophole was closed in April.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also published a study in March finding that more than 2.5 million U.S. students had used a tobacco product of some sort in 2021 – a definition that includes nicotine devices that do not disperse tobacco.
Officials reported that 80 percent of tobacco use was attributable to disposable e-cigarettes and cartridge products – like a Juul.
The CDC reports that more than 2.5 million students in the U.S. were ‘current’ users of tobacco products in 2021. This includes 13% of high schoolers and 4% of middle schoolers
Disposable e-cigarettes and refillable cartridges account for over 80% of teen tobacco product usage in America
In the study, around 2.06 million high schoolers – 13 percent of the study population – and four percent of middle schoolers – 470,000 participants – reported ‘current’ tobacco use.
For comparison, in 2020 the CDC reported that eight percent of high schoolers and three percent of middle schoolers were current tobacco users.
Students were also asked if they had ever used tobacco products in their life, with 34 percent of high schoolers and 11 percent of middle schoolers reporting at least one use.
E-cigarette devices were most to blame for the increase in nicotine and tobacco use over the past year, according to the CDC study.
Of the students who did report being current smokers, 54 percent use a disposable e-cigarette and 29 percent reported using some sort of refillable device – similar to a Juul.
Between them, the devices which allow teens to easily and conspicuously use nicotine account for over 80 percent of overall student tobacco use.
Nicotine does not carry many of the same negative effects and cancer risks that tobacco, but does increase the risk of high blood pressure, artery shrinking and increased heart rate.
E-cigarettes’ use among school-aged children can be attributed to their flavors, and the devices resemblance to a USB stick, allowing kids to easily carry them at school without getting caught.
Some states and cities have banned the sale of flavored nicotine products, though there have been mixed results as to whether they successfully prevented teens from picking up the habit.
Opponents to these bans say that they will push teens to using more harmful tobacco products like cigarettes, instead of nicotine, which carries less risk.
‘By bashing safer nicotine products such as vaping we are going to inadvertently encourage high schoolers to smoke instead, which will be an awful outcome,’ Mark Oates, director of consumer advocacy group We Vape, told DailyMail.com in March.