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William Glanz

Senior Writer

Adolescent Vaping: The New National Addiction Crisis

January 30, 2020 | Addictions | Recovery | Comments
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A new form of substance use has grown dramatically in the last year and threatens the health of adolescents.

Despite significant progress to reduce tobacco use and nicotine dependency among the general population – and among individuals with behavioral health conditions who smoke at almost double the national rate – vaping has rapidly become a national crisis, according to the 2019 Monitoring the Future (MTR) study.

The study, released December 19, 2019, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), found that vaping of all substances among all high school grades increased last year.

Nearly one in three high school seniors (30.9%, up from 26.7% in 2018) now use vaping products, according to the study, with 45% of teens in 12th grade reporting that they have engaged in some form of vaping.

The study found an distinct increase in marijuana vaping, with the number of teens in 12th grade who vaped marijuana in any month increasing from 7.5 percent in 2018 to 14 percent in 2019. In the 45-year history of the MTR study, only the increase in nicotine vaping between 2017 and 2018 was greater, when data indicated that more than one million new teen users engaged in nicotine vaping.

A New Public Health Crisis

The rapid rise of vaping among adolescents over the past two years represents a new public health crisis because of the known and unknown risks it poses and because vaping increases the likelihood that adolescents develop a nicotine dependency.

“Even if they don’t smoke traditional combustible cigarettes, adolescents will be more likely to continue vaping nicotine as adults and are at a greater risk of starting to smoke traditional cigarettes in adulthood. Exposure to any nicotine makes an adolescent more likely to use tobacco products overall. Nicotine rewires your brain to crave more nicotine, so adolescents are at a greater risk of using all nicotine products upon vaping initiation,” said Taslim van Hattum, senior director of Practice Improvement at the National Council for Behavioral Health.

Additional considerations arise among youth who vape marijuana.

“As the number of adolescents who vape marijuana increases, so too does the scope and effect of any associated health consequences, which may include lung injury when using black market formulations. The rapid rise of marijuana vaping indicates the need for new prevention and intervention efforts aimed specifically at adolescents,” the team of investigators of the study wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Positive Signs

There is some good news in the new report.

The MTF study found the number of 12th grade students engaging in daily combustible tobacco use fell to 2.4% in 2019 from 3.6% in 2018. That’s in line with declining national adult use trends, although tobacco use among behavioral health populations remains alarmingly high.

The report noted other positive developments about adolescent substance use, including:

  • The rate of misuse of prescription drugs continued its steady, long-term decline among 12th graders, with 1.7% reporting they used Oxycontin in 2019, compared to 5.5% in 2005 and 1.1% of 12th graders reporting they used Vicodin in 2019, down from 10.5% in 2003.
  • Alcohol use dropped among 10th and 12th graders in 2019, now at 37.7% for 10th graders and 52.1% for 12th grade students.

Need for Resources

The significance of the decline in youth combustible tobacco use is diminished by the astounding increase in nicotine use through other methods. That increase, coupled with challenges surrounding vaping related illness and subsequent long-term risk of substance use through vaping, underscores the problem with the dearth of guidance for providers and pediatricians on adolescent vaping prevention and treatment.

As resources are developed, the National Council looks forward to making them available through the National Behavioral Health Network for Tobacco and Cancer Control here. Resources available now include:

To learn more about individuals with behavioral health conditions, tobacco use, vaping and ways to receive additional training and technical assistance around this issue, visit and join the National Council’s National Behavioral Health Network for Tobacco and Cancer Control.