America’s vaping epidemic is being fueled by people who have never smoked before — which is more evidence that the devices aren’t just a tool for quitting.
The number of U.S. adults using the devices increased 16 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to a report from the American Cancer Society (ACS), from 8.8 to 10.2 percent of the population.
But rates among people who have never smoked traditional cigarettes are rising at twice the rate. Over that three-year period, those numbers have increased by 31 percent.
The increase in young people who have never smoked cigarettes is even stronger, with a study last year showing that 14 percent of vape users start at age 13 or younger.
Younger people who do not smoke cigarettes and have never smoked before are more likely to pick up vaping than their peers, and they are responsible for most of the growth in vaping use from 2019 to 2021
Vaping is now more common than smoking among US adults under 30, according to the most recent data. About 27 percent of American youth under 30 vape, while only 12 percent smoke
“Unfortunately, these numbers show that we are moving in the wrong direction with regard to e-cigarette use in this vulnerable population,” said Dr. Priti Bandi, lead author of the study and member of the ACS.
“Our research finding is concerning because it may indicate an increase in the risk of nicotine dependence for young adults, possibly contributing to the progression to combustible tobacco products, and may also increase exposure to unknown toxicants, carcinogens and the risk of respiratory disease.”
Just over one in 10 American adults use vapes, according to the ACS study. That’s almost 30 million people.
Vapes are relatively new compared to cigarettes, first hitting the shelves in 2007 and coming to prominence in the mid-2010s.
The devices appear to have filled a gap left by traditional combustible cigarettes, the use of which has gradually declined over the past few decades.
In their study, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the ACS team collected survey data from 75,000 people between 2019 and 2021.
Respondents to the National Health Interview Survey, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were asked about their current and past smoking habits.
Participants who said they vape regularly were then divided by age and whether they had smoked before.
Overall, the number of American adults who smoked increased, from 8.8 percent of the study population to 10.2 percent.
This increase was mainly fueled by young people who indicated that they had never smoked before.
In 2019, 1.97 million never-smokers between the ages of 18 and 29 reported vaping, compared to just 1.37 million current smokers.
But by 2021, vaping among young never-smokers will increase by more than a third to 2.68 million.
in the same age group, vape use among current smokers dropped 28 percent to less than 1 million.
Using data across all ages, the number of never-smokers who vaped rose 31 percent, from 2.55 to 3.35 million.
Across the entire data set, current smokers made up about the same number of vapers, with 3.35 million also reporting vape use.
The bulk of vapers are those who have quit smoking, with 4.48 million previous cigarette users now using the electronic devices.
This data includes adults only and does not account for the increase in vaping use among children and teens in America.
A CDC report published in October found that 2.55 million American middle and high school students reported using the devices in the past month.
Dr. Brian King, chief of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, said last year that adolescent e-cigarette use remained at “worrying levels” in the US.
He continued that the use of these devices also posed a serious risk to public health.
That study also found that 85 percent of teens who vaped used flavored devices.
These companies have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with market leader Juul paying $460 million last week to settle lawsuits related to marketing to children.
Much of this increase has been attributed to Juul. The embattled San Francisco, California-based company has paid more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits alleging it marketed its products to teens.
The company used to sell a variety of fruit- and candy-flavored vape products, but almost all of them have since been pulled from the market due to regulatory pressure.
An increase in vape use in the US has been fueled by an increasing number of non-smokers picking up the habit. Researchers found 3.35 million former non-smokers are now vaping, up from 2.55 million in 2019
Last year, the FDA banned the products, though it put the ban on hold and agreed to reconsider the action after the company appealed.
In the mid-2010s, vapes rose to prominence. Nicotine and tobacco use among young people has been falling sharply for decades.
Gallup found that only 21 percent of American adults ages 18 to 29 smoked regularly in 2015, the year vaping began to gain significance in America.
By 2022, Gallup is reporting a smoking rate of just 12 percent.
However, vapes started filling this market. Gallup found that one in five 18- to 29-year-olds vaped regularly in 2018. In 2022, this figure grew to 27 percent.
Juul, and its competitors such as Elf Bar, Vaporesso and Smok, claim that the proliferation of their devices is helping to reduce smoking rates.
Many industry leaders and outside experts have cited vaping as an excellent tool to help people quit smoking.
At first glance, the devices are considered by many experts to be healthier than cigarettes, because vapes do not contain tobacco, tar and thousands of other harmful substances.
However, a wealth of research is beginning to cast doubt on these claims, showing that they cause similar damage to the heart and lungs as regular cigarettes.
While they don’t contain tobacco, they still contain hundreds of chemicals that irritate the lungs.
Nicotine itself also causes the constriction and constriction of blood vessels, limiting the amount of blood that flows to a person’s organs.