The number of U.S. middle and high school students using electronic cigarettes has dropped for the first time since such data started being recorded, according to a new report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
E-cigarettes are devices that heat up a nicotine-laced fluid to produce a vapor that users inhale. While many believe the gadgets are healthier than traditional cigarettes, that topic is hotly debated. In fact, many studies have found them to be just as harmful.
The recent data shows that the number of teenagers using e-cigarettes dropped from 3 million in 2015 to 2.2 million in 2016. In that time, use in high school students fell from 16 percent to 11.3 percent and use among middle school students went from 5.3 percent to 4.3 percent.
Before that drop, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a large spike in e-cigarette use by young people from 2011 to 2015. This caused a lot of concern among officials, but the new decline could signal a change.
“This is unimaginable, extraordinary progress,” said Matthew Myers, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, according to The Washington Post. “This is a change of a cosmic nature that has the potential to dramatically impact lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and other problems.”
The reason the use among young people has caused so much concern is that nicotine is believed to harm developing brains. This has made officials worried the devices could cause lasting harm to the health of younger users. In addition, many also believe the vapor produced by e-cigarettes contains hazardous ingredients.
While the team is not sure, they believe recent actions — including high-profile public education campaigns about the potential dangers of e-cigarettes and new restrictions on sales to minors — are the reason for the decline.
Despite the trend, many young people are using both regular and electronic cigarettes. The team hopes to look further into the data to better determine what other measures can be taken to lower use.
“We’ve made a lot of great progress, but we still have millions of youth that are using a product that is detrimental to their health,” said Brian King, deputy director for research translation in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, according to NPR.