America’s vaping epidemic is being fueled by people who never smoked before — in more evidence the devices are not simply a cessation aid.
The number of US adults who use the devices increased 16 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to a report by the American Cancer Society (ACS), from 8.8 to 10.2 percent of the population.
But the rates among people who have never smoked traditional cigarettes are rising twice as fast. Over that three-year period, use among people who reported never smoking jumped 31 percent.
The rise in young people who never smoked cigarettes is even more stark, with a study last year finding 14 percent of vape users start at age 13 or younger.
Younger people who do not and have never smoked cigarettes before are more likely to pick up vaping than their peers, and they account for the most growth in vape use from 2019 to 2021
Vaping is now more common than smoking among American adults under 30, according to most recent data. Around 27 percent of US under 30s vape while only 12 percent smoke
‘Unfortunately, these numbers show we’re moving in the wrong direction concerning e-cigarette use in this vulnerable population,’ Dr Priti Bandi, lead author of the study and member of the ACS, said.
‘Our research finding is concerning as it may point to an increase in nicotine addiction risk for young adults, potentially contributing to progression to combustible tobacco products, and may also increase exposure to unknown toxicants, carcinogens, and the risk of respiratory diseases.’
According to the ACS study, just over one in ten American adults use vapes. This makes up nearly 30 million people.
Vapes are relatively new compared to cigarettes, first hitting shelves in 2007 and rising to prominence in the mids-2010s.
The devices seem to have filled a gap left by traditional combustible cigarettes, which have seen use gradually decline in recent decades.
In their research, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the ACS team gathered 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 previous smoking habits.
Participants who said they regularly vaped were then divided by age and whether they had smoked before.
Overall, the number of US adults who smoked increased, from making up 8.8 percent of the study population to 10.2 percent.
This rise was primarily fueled by young people who reported that they had never previously smoked.
In 2019, 1.97million never-smokers between 18 and 29 reported that they vaped, compared to just 1.37million current smokers.
But, by 2021 vaping among young never smokers increased by more than a third, all the way to 2.68millon.
Within the same age group, vape use among current smokers dropped 28 percent, down below 1million.
When using data from all ages, the number of never-smokers who vaped increased 31 percent, from 2.55 to 3.35million.
Over the entire data set, current smokers made up around the same number of vapers, with 3.35million also reporting vape use.
The biggest portion of vapers is made up by people who ditched smoking, with 4.48million previous cigarette users now using the electronic devices.
This data only includes adults and does not account for the surge in vape use among children and teens in America.
A CDC report published in October found that 2.55million US middle and high school students reported using the devices over the past month.
Dr Brian King, head of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, said last year that adolescent e-cigarette use in the US remained at ‘concerning levels’.
He went on to say that use of these devices also posed a serious public health risk.
In that study, it was also found that 85 percent of teens who vaped used flavored devices.
These firms are facing intense scrutiny in recent years, with industry-leader Juul paying $460million to settle lawsuits regarding marketing to children last week.
Much of this rise has been credited to Juul. The embattled San Francisco, California-based company has paid more than $1billion to settle lawsuits alleging it marketed it products to teens.
The firm used to sell a variety of fruit and candy-flavored vape products, though nearly all have since been pulled from the market under regulatory pressure.
A surge in vape use in the US was fueled by a rising number of non-smoker picking up the habit. Researchers found that 3.35million previous non-smokers are now vaping, up from 2.55million 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.
Vapes rose to prominence in the mid-2010s. Nicotine and tobacco use had been sharply declining among young people for decades.
Gallup found that only 21 percent of US adults aged 18 to 29 regularly smoked in 2015, the year when vapes started to gain significance in America.
By 2022, Gallup reports a smoking rate of just 12 percent.
Vapes began to fill this market, though. Gallup found that one in five 18 to 29 year olds used a vape regularly in 2018. The figure grew to 27 percent in 2022.
Juul, and its competitors such as Elf Bar, Vaporesso and Smok, claim the rise in their devices is helping bring smoking rates down.
Many industry leaders and outside experts have cited vapes as an excellent tool for helping people quit smoking.
On their face, the devices have been deemed healthier than cigarettes by many experts because vapes do not contain tobacco, tar and thousands of other harmful substances.
However, a trove of research is starting to cast doubt on these claims, showing they cause similar damage to the heart and lungs that normal cigarettes do.
While absent of tobacco, they still contain hundreds of chemicals that irritate the lungs.
Nicotine itself also causes the restriction and narrowing of blood vessels, limiting the amount of blood that flows to a person’s organs.