2.4 Million Teens Try E-Cigarettes, Three Times as Many as Last Year

Michael Byers

E-cigarette use among teenagers has tripled since 2013, and the number of teens smoking tobacco products has increased for the first time in a generation, according to a study released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report found a "striking increase" in the number of students using e-cigarettes and hookah pipes from 2013 to 2014. More than 2.4 million middle and high school students now smoke e-cigarettes, up from 780,000 the year prior, while the number who smoke hookah doubled to 1.5 million.

For the first time since the CDC started recording data for their use in 2011, e-cigarettes have surpassed any other form of tobacco in terms of popularity, according to the report.

"We're having to play Whack-A-Mole with different tobacco products," said Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, during a press briefing on Thursday.

He added that tobacco use is dangerous at any age and "nicotine addiction is usually a lifelong challenge."

Illnesses from tobacco use are the leading preventable causes of death in the U.S., according to the CDC. Tobacco is particularly addictive among teens, whose brains are still developing during middle and high school.

"Seeing this uptick in the number of kids using these tobacco products in just one year…is deeply alarming," said Frieden, adding that memory and attention deficits have been linked to smoking during adolescence.

The reason for the increase: aggressive marketing by e-cigarette companies, many of which are owned by traditional cigarette purveyors. Frieden called their efforts "Mad Men come to e-cigarettes," saying e-cig advertisers are using and sex and flavor to make their products seem appealing, just as tobacco companies did for regular cigarettes in the 1950s.

The CDC says tobacco companies also "aggressively" market hookah pipes and tobacco, but they remain unregulated, unlike other tobacco products, which fall under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The CDC study found a slight increase in overall tobacco use, including traditional cigarettes, between 2011 and 2014, as just under a quarter of high school student use some form of tobacco. In 2014, 9.2 percent of high school students used cigarettes, compared with 13.4 percent who used e-cigarettes and 9.4 percent who used hookah. Frieden said there is no link between the decline in child tobacco use and the increase in those using e-cigarettes.

A 2014 University of California study found that e-cigarettes don't help smokers quit .