Teen with e-cigarette

Yesterday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, held a rare news conference. “I am officially declaring e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States,” Dr. Adams announced. “Now is the time to take action. We need to protect our young people from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.” 

His announcement and an accompanying advisory was prompted by a study released this week on vaping among youth, which found e-cigarette use among high school students has soared dramatically in the past year. 

“One out of every five high-school students is currently using e-cigarettes,” says Kelli England Will, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics and nationally known child-safety researcher in EVMS Pediatrics’ Community Health and Research division. 

The study reported that increases in teen vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance-use outcome in the U.S. The percentage of 12th-grade students who reported vaping nicotine in the prior 30 days nearly doubled, rising from 11 to 21 percent. 

These results came from the annual Monitoring the Future survey, which has tracked national substance use among U.S. 12th-grade students since 1975. The 2018 study also found that among 10th-grade students, which the survey began including in 1991, nicotine vaping doubled, rising from 8 to 16 percent. 

“Our team here at EVMS has worked to understand and intervene in teen vaping since 2015,” Dr. Will says. One result of this work is Rethink Vape, a public information campaign developed with teens for teens. 

“Nearly 800,000 teens have seen our research-supported messages on social media platforms such as Snapchat and YouTube,” she says. “We also were recently awarded funding by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth to engage with the community to improve vape prevention education in Hampton Roads settings.” 

Dr. Will’s colleague, Paul Harrell, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, also has conducted research to understand vaping among adolescents and college students. 

“With funding from the National Cancer Institute,” Dr. Harrell says, “I led a team in the development of a measure of attitudes about vaping among college students. I led a similar project among adolescents with funding from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. We found that their attitudes were related to risk factors for use, as well as actual use. This research may help inform prevention efforts.”

Dr. Will and Dr. Harrell invite parents, teachers, teens, healthcare providers and other concerned citizens who are interested in getting involved to call 757.446.5799 or email vapestudy@evms.edu.