A recent study charts a rapid increase in teen e-cigarette use, or vaping, with a 10 percent rise among high school seniors over the past year.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine and conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota, showed that just over 20 percent of 12th-graders reported vaping in the last 30 days. Researchers said that the one-year increase was the largest for any substance in the survey’s 44 years.

Vaughan Rees, director of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Global Tobacco Control, said the results call for action to keep e-cigarettes out of young people’s hands. But Rees also said they need to be interpreted in the context of the global fight against tobacco.

Smoking is a global problem, with an estimated 7 million deaths related to it annually, according to the World Health Organization. The challenge, Rees said, is to devise strategies to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth without demonizing a technology that has the potential to be a powerful tool in the fight against smoking-related harm. In an interview, he discussed key concerns and the stakes involved.

GAZETTE: What stood out to you about this study?

REES: This is the second survey that has been released just in the past few weeks that shows fairly similar findings. The prevalence of nicotine vaping among adolescents has increased dramatically compared with the year before. And it looks like it’s about 20 percent, or one in five kids. This is from the Monitoring the Future survey. The previous one used the National Youth Tobacco Survey from the Centers for Disease Control.

We’re seeing some concordance in the findings, but both reported on past-30-days use, and they didn’t make it clear that not all of these kids are using every day. Other data suggests that around half of youth who vape don’t do it every day. That’s a different form of use, which may have different implications for dependence and for potential health problems.

GAZETTE: So the numbers may indicate a bigger problem than usage patterns dictate?

REES: Yes. So, if they asked about daily vaping among adolescents, we would have seen a smaller proportion, which isn’t quite so alarming.

GAZETTE: If you have kids in different grades who are using, is it possible that we’re seeing the beginning of what will become in three years, five years, daily use?

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