E-Cigarettes and Hookahs Rise in Teen Popularity

A woman smokes an e-cigarette
E-cigarette use is becoming more common among teens, a new report says. (Image credit: E-cigarette photo via Shutterstock)

Unconventional smoking products such as electronic cigarettes and hookahs are becoming more popular among U.S. teens, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, 1.1 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes, up from 0.6 percent in 2011. Among high school students, e-cigarette use rose from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent, and hookah use increased from 4.1 percent to 5.4 percent over the same period.

The reason for the rise is not known, but it could be due to an increase in marketing and availability of electronic cigarettes and hookahs, as well as the perception that the products are "safer" than cigarettes, the CDC said. [How Electronic Cigarettes Work (Infographic)]  

"A large portion of kids who use tobacco are smoking products other than cigarettes, including cigars and hookahs, which are similarly dangerous," Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said in a statement. "We need to apply the same strategies that work to prevent and reduce cigarette use among our youth to these new and emerging products."

Cigarettes and cigars are still the most commonly used tobacco products: Among middle school students, about 3.5 percent said they smoked cigarettes, and 2.8 percent smoked cigars in the previous 30 days. Among high school students, about 24 percent smoked cigarettes and 12.6 percent smoked cigars in the past 30 days.

Overall use of cigarettes and cigars remained about the same between 2011 and 2012, however, there was a concerning increase in cigar use among black high school students, from 11.7 percent to 16.7 percent, the researchers said.

Some types of cigars are sold as "little cigars," which look almost exactly like cigarettes and may appeal to teens because they can be sold individually, and also come in fruit and candy flavors that aren't allowed in cigarettes, the CDC said. Just last month, the CDC found that more than a third of middle and high school students who smoke cigars use flavored, little cigars.

More than 8 million Americans live with smoking-related diseases, and more than 440,000 people die from smoking-related health effects each year. The majority of adult smokers — close to 90 percent — began smoking by age 18, according to the CDC.

Strategies for reducing youth smoking include increasing the price of tobacco products, implementing smoke-free laws in all workplaces and public places, increasing access to services that help people quit, and enforcing restrictions on tobacco advertising, according to the CDC.

The study is based on an annual survey of more than 24,000 U.S. middle and high school students. It is published in tomorrow's (Nov. 15) issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 14 in order to refer to e-cigarettes as smoking products, rather than tobacco products.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.