Report says e-cigarette use rose 900 percent among high school students since 2011

SALT LAKE CITY -- A new US Surgeon General report says e-cigarette use among high school students has increased 900 percent since 2011.

“In Utah, our youth e-cigarettes use has gone up five-fold since 2011,” said Brittany Karzen of the Utah Department of Health.

The US Surgeon General released a report on their interactive website Thursday, saying vaping among teens is a "major public health concern" and calling teens a new generation of addicts.

The Utah Department of Health provided several statistics from 2015:

  • 10.5 percent of teens report using e-cigarettes
  • 22.2 percent have tried them
  • 3.4 percent of teens report smoking regular cigarettes

“That nicotine can affect the developing brain, and one of the ways that it does that is it really overstimulates your pleasure centers, which can lead you to seeking those sort of same stimulations from other substances,” Karzen said.

While most e-cigarette products contain some nicotine, it does not produce the same damaging effects of smoke and tar from regular cigarettes. That's something e-cig advocates say should be celebrated.

"Electronic cigarettes are not designed as a safe product: They are designed as a safer product, so it's a huge difference," said Aaron Frazier of the Utah Smoke-Free Association. "You know we don't want anybody to pick up the product, you know, it’s not a gateway towards smoking: it's a gateway out of smoking."

The Surgeon General is now calling on lawmakers to implement regulations to help slow the usage of e-cigarettes among teens and young adults. Changes in policy are something the Utah Department of Health says they're pushing for.

“We know that a tax is one way that always reduces youth use of cigarettes, and likely e-cigarettes, because [youth are] so price sensitive,” Karzen said.

Frazier said that they believe additional taxes will only make it harder for people who are trying to switch away from cigarettes to do so.

“This is a gateway out, and the more that we make it difficult for people to make that switch, the more expensive that we make it, they're not going to make that switch," he said. "They're not going to, you know, make that improvement in their health."