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Millions Of Students Are Vaping

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The CDC says almost 1 in 4 American teenagers used tobacco products this year. Younger people have started moving away from cigarettes towards vaping without realizing that vaping is highly addictive. Here's a story from NPR's Richard Harris that we first aired last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RICHARD HARRIS: Some of these figures have trickled out in recent months as public health experts and the White House have gone back and forth about efforts to curb teen vaping. Among high school students, we have heard that nearly 28% are considered current e-cigarette or vape users, and more than 10% of middle school students also said they'd vaped in the past 30 days. Dr. Albert Rizzo is chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.

ALBERT RIZZO: Unfortunately, it supports what our worries have been for a while now that a new generation of people are being addicted to nicotine, unfortunately, despite all the efforts we've made to cut down on tobacco being the No. 1 preventable cause of death.

HARRIS: One seemingly hopeful trend is teens are now less likely to smoke cigarettes, so they are avoiding the toxic tar in that smoke. But nicotine from vaping is not only addictive - it can affect the development of the maturing brain. And Rizzo says it's premature to declare that e-cigarettes are actually safer.

RIZZO: They've only hit our markets for the last 10 years. As we know, some of the problems with regular cigarette smoking doesn't manifest itself for 10, 15 or 20 years or longer.

HARRIS: So this first generation of vape users will end up being experimental subjects as scientists try to understand the full impact of this widespread practice. Children are attracted to vaping, in part because of the flavors. In September, after a meeting with top public health officials, President Donald Trump said he would approve a ban on most flavored products. But he has since backtracked after pressure from the industry.

Health advocates like the American Lung Association are continuing to push for limits on products that appeal to children and teens. But Rizzo acknowledges that Trump's actions have been discouraging.

RIZZO: So we're hopeful that he does the right thing, but we're not counting on it at this point.

HARRIS: Richard Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.

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