Recent statistics support Dr. Avery’s concerns.
Results from the 2018 Monitoring the Future survey, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, indicated that about 80 percent of youth do not see great risk of harm from regular use of e-cigarettes. But the Food and Drug Administration, which classified e-cigarettes as tobacco products in 2016, has warned that their use may cause changes to lungs that could be a precursor to cancer.
To bridge this information gap, Dr. Avery and his colleagues have begun holding free counseling sessions for kids and parents on the risks of using electronic nicotine delivery systems, and Dr. Avery is working with advocacy groups like PAVE (Parents Against Vaping E-Cigarettes) to raise awareness about the harmful effects.
“We’re doing a lot at NewYork-Presbyterian to raise awareness of these new devices that deliver nicotine,” he says. “We’re informing pediatricians and helping them learn to ask questions and screen for it. We’re holding different events that are open to the public where they can learn about these devices from myself and from parents that have experience with their own children and what they’ve learned about the devices.”
The surge in vaping’s popularity has accelerated in the last year, motivating both Dr. Avery and federal agencies like the FDA to sound the alarm about their use. From 2017 to 2018, the prevalence of 12th graders who reported vaping nicotine in a 30-day period was 30 percent, an increase of 11 percentage points from 2017, according to the Monitoring the Future survey. For eighth graders, the rate was 11 percent, up 3.4 points from 2017, and 25 percent of 10th graders said they vaped nicotine, up 8.9 points. This annual survey has tracked national substance use among U.S. adolescents every year since 1975, and this increase in nicotine vaping is the largest year-to-year increase they have recorded in the past 44 years for any substance used by teens.
Dr. Avery points to a few factors that might be driving the dramatic increase in vaping. One is peer pressure.
“Vaping looks fun, it looks techy,” he says of devices that can look like a portable USB drive. “It looks almost like the anti-cigarette, and in that way it can be very seductive for a peer group and for a teenager wanting to do the next coolest thing.”