May 31, 2023

Traditional smoking rates down, vaping on the rise among kids and young adults

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day

MADISON, Wis. – While the number of adults who smoke cigarettes is declining, the rate of vaping is increasing, especially in kids, according to a UW Health Kids expert.

Only 11.5% of adults in the United States reported smoking in 2022, compared to about 42% back in 1964 when experts began tracking rates of smoking according to Dr. Brian Williams, pediatric hospitalist, UW Health Kids, and tobacco researcher at the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco and Research Intervention (UW-CTRI).

“This is a historically low level and its important progress because smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death not only in the United States, but in the world,” said Williams, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. “Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, lung disease and harms every organ in the body.”

Vaping is the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, and there is no burning of the tobacco like a traditional cigarette. Instead, a liquid that contains nicotine, the addictive substance in both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes, is heated to a very high temperature and becomes a vapor that people inhale, he said.

The use of e-cigarettes rose to nearly 6% of adults in 2022, up from 4.5% in the year before according to the most recent survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (pdf).

The percentage of people who vaped was highest among 18- to 25-year-olds followed by adolescents, ages 12 to 17, according to data from UW-CTRI.

“Vaping is a troubling trend because it is the new gateway into a harmful nicotine addiction,” Williams said. “When people vape, they are inhaling toxins and carcinogens.”

About 2.55 million U.S. middle school and high school students reported using e-cigarettes, which includes 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students, according to a 2022 study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.

“Younger brains are at higher risk for addiction, and nicotine sets up pathways in the brain for addiction,” Williams said. “So kids who vape are more likely to become cigarette smokers later in life.”

Vaping can also have negative impacts on cardiovascular and pulmonary function, according to recent research led by Dr. Matt Tattersall, cardiologist, UW Health, assistant professor of medicine, UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

New analyses shows adults who use e-cigarettes had worrisome changes in heart and blood vessel functions and performed significantly worse on exercise tests than people who did not smoke, even in young adults, he said.

“The negative impact on heart, lung and blood vessel function among those who vaped was worse than the controls and similar to the impact of traditional cigarette use, even though those that used e-cigarettes were younger and had vaped for nearly two decades less than the group that smoked,” Tattersall said.

The research was a part of the Cardiac and LUng E-cig Smoking, CLUES study, which took place between March 2019March 2022 at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Today, May 31, is World No Tobacco Day, which began in 1987 to acknowledge the impact tobacco has on the world.

“This day brings awareness to the epidemic of tobacco use and hopefully can help people to think about quitting,” Williams said. “Bottom line, the best thing an adult can do for their health is to quit smoking, and no child or young adult should be vaping or smoking cigarettes.”