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American teenagers are smoking less than ever before, but they’re turning to e-cigarettes instead, a new report shows. It troubles doctors and health advocates, who say the youngsters are trading one addiction for another, with no evidence that e-cigarettes are much safer than traditional ones.

The Monitoring the Future survey, conducted annually by the University of Michigan and paid for by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, shows just 4 percent of 8th graders admitted to having smoked a cigarette in the past month. But 8.7 percent said they’d tried an e-cigarette in that time. By the time kids are high school seniors, 13.6 percent are current smokers and 17 percent are “vapers."

"Despite the positive developments this year, we are concerned about the levels of e-cigarette use among teens that we are seeing,” said Michigan’s Lloyd Johnston, who led the study team. “It would be a tragedy if this product undid some of the great progress made to date in reducing cigarette smoking by teens."

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says the finding shows that prevention efforts like cigarette taxes and anti-smoking campaigns work. “The long-term decline is an indication that the latest decline is not related to the increase in use of e-cigarettes," Myers said in a statement.

“This survey’s statistics on kids and e-cigarettes should set off alarm bells at the Food and Drug Administration,” said American Heart Association CEO Dr. Nancy Brown. “According to these findings, a new generation of American teens are taking up nicotine via e-cigarettes, which remain unregulated. How many more of our children will fall prey to these hi-tech devices before the FDA acts?”

The survey of thousands of middle and high school students across the country shows that alcohol use and abuse of prescription pain relievers among teens has declined since 2013. Use of marijuana stayed about the same.


— Maggie Fox