BY AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

E-cigarette carrying case

Although youth smoking rates hit record lows in 2015, high school students are more-frequently turning to alternative tobacco products — like e-cigarettes and small, flavored cigars known as cigarillos, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

“Monitoring the Future,” a study compiled by researchers at the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported that for students in all grades surveyed — 8th, 10th and 12th — e-cigarette use far exceeded regular cigarette use over the past 30 days.

Specifically, 9.5 percent of 8th graders, 14 percent of 10th graders and 16.2 percent of 12th graders all reported using e-cigarettes over the past month.

Fifty percent of students attributed their use of e-cigarettes to a desire to experiment, while about 40 percent said they used the products because they taste good.

Richard Meich, a senior investigator of the study, said of the findings, “Part of the reason for the popularity of vaporizers such as e-cigarettes is the perception they do not harm health.”

For instance, just 19 percent of 8th graders surveyed said they believed e-cigarettes could be harmful, compared to 63 percent who thought the same about regular cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and other nontraditional tobacco products are not yet regulated by the FDA, though the agency sent its final rule to the White House nearly two months ago for approval.

“This new survey should put the FDA on high alert,” American Heart Association Chief Executive Nancy Brown said in a statement. “With more teens turning to alternative tobacco products, the need for a final deeming rule has become ever more urgent.”

The report did show progress in decreasing teen cigarette use. For all three grades combined, the percentage of students who reported smoking traditional cigarettes over the past 30 days dropped from 8 percent to 7 percent—a statistically significant drop. The report also noted that since 1996-1997 smoking rates have declined by 83 percent among 8th graders, 79 percent among 10th graders and 69 percent among 12th graders.

According to the survey, efforts to reduce teen smoking, including widespread anti-smoking ad campaigns, educational programs in schools, strong smoke-free laws and higher tobacco taxes have played a significant role in the decline.