Fewer U.S. high school students are smoking traditional cigarettes, but youth tobacco use and the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes remain causes for concern, federal health officials said on Thursday.
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 22.9 percent of high school students reported using a tobacco product in the previous 30 days in 2013, down from 24.3 percent in 2011.
The percentage of high school students who had smoked a traditional cigarette during the prior month dropped to 12.7 percent in 2013 from 15.8 percent in 2011. Cigarettes are the most popular tobacco product among white and Hispanic high school students.
However, the smoking of e-cigarettes by high school students overall tripled, to 4.5 percent in 2013 from 1.5 percent in 2011, the CDC survey found.
Battery powered e-cigarettes turn liquid nicotine to vapor instead of smoke as in traditional cigarettes. The devices are unregulated by the federal government, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April proposed rules that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18.
More than 35 states have barred such sales, said Brian King, a senior scientific advisor with the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.
“But it’s still legal in many states for youth to walk into a mall kiosk or convenience store and buy these,” King said. “They can also be purchased online.”
A CDC study released in August found that more than a quarter million adolescents and teens who had never smoked traditional cigarettes used an electronic cigarette in 2013, a threefold increase from 2011.
The consumption of any tobacco product, whether electronic or traditional, can be harmful, King said.
“That’s primarily because these products contain nicotine,” he said. “Aside from being highly addictive, nicotine can also have adverse health effects on the developing adolescent brain.”
David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria Group, which owns three U.S. tobacco companies including Philip Morris USA, said the company favors laws that prevent minors from purchasing e-cigarettes.
"Kids shouldn't use tobacco products at all, including e-cigarettes,” he said.