- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The number of high school seniors who vaped marijuana in the last 30 days almost doubled this year, from 7.5% to 14% — the second largest one-year jump ever tracked for any substance since a national survey began monitoring drug abuse in 1975.

More than 20% of 12th graders reported vaping marijuana in the past year, nearly double from 2018, along with about 19% of 10th graders and 7% of eighth graders, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) survey released Wednesday.

“This year, there’s particularly concerning news regarding vaping behavior, whether that’s the extraordinary increases in nicotine vaping or what we’ve also been learning is that a surprising increasing number of youth are vaping marijuana products or cannabis products,” said NIDA Deputy Director Dr. Wilson Compton. “That’s been the most concerning news.”

The results come amid an outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses that has been linked to THC-based products and vitamin E acetate, an additive found in THC e-cigarettes. More than 2,400 people have been hospitalized and at least 52 people have died from the lung injuries.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.

Marijuana continues to rank as the most-used illicit drug by youth. Although having remained relatively unchanged for many years, daily use of marijuana climbed significantly since 2018 among eighth and 10th graders, says the National Institutes of Health. A reported 1.3% of eighth graders and 4.8% of 10th graders reported using marijuana on a daily basis.

Dr. Compton noted some positive trends in the survey. The NIDA Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey revealed decreases in misuse of opioid pain relievers, alcohol use and traditional combustible cigarettes.

Fewer than 6% of high school seniors reported using combustible cigarettes in the past month, down from 7.6% in 2018 and 13.6% five years ago.

While decreasing numbers of young people are using traditional cigarettes, the survey shows a good proportion of them are consuming nicotine via vaping. A reported 25% of 12th graders, 20% of 10th graders and almost 10% of eighth graders vaped nicotine in the past month.

“We see a marked increase in nicotine use in vaping products. And of course that’s a concern because vaping can be so addictive and habit forming,” Dr. Compton said.

Gary Giovino, a professor of community health at State University of New York at Buffalo, said kids who vape nicotine are more likely to smoke combustible cigarettes.

“Cigarette consumption has gone down. That’s a huge public health success story since the mid-1990s and we were doing so well. I hope we can maintain progress on cigarette use going down,” Mr. Giovino said. “The question is are the kids who are mixing [marijuana] going to die immediately, which is very sad and hard to even think about, but we have to … And are these kids going to someday switch to combustible cigarettes?”

According to the survey, many teens say they vape for the flavor, to experiment, to feel good and for social reasons. The number of high school seniors who said they vape because they are “hooked” more than doubled this year, from 3.6% to 8.1%.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the survey puts policymakers on notice that they will be held responsible if they fail to take the “bold action needed to reverse this epidemic and prevent e-cigarettes from addicting a generation of kids.”

More than 42,000 students from 396 public and private schools participated in this year’s MTF survey.

The annual MTF survey is the only large-scale federal government survey on teen drug use that releases findings the same year the data is collected.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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