Newswise — ANN ARBOR—Whether their preference is Belgian waffle, kettle corn, sweet tea or endless other choices, it's the flavor—not the nicotine—that entices U.S. teens to vape, a new University of Michigan study indicated.
Vaping prevalence among youth has grown exponentially in recent years, but what substances youth vape is largely unknown.
Researchers asked nearly 15,000 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders about vaping in the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey, an annual nationally representative study that is administered by U-M and sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Vaporizers are battery-powered devices with a heating element. They produce an aerosol, also known as a vapor or mist, that users inhale. The aerosol may contain nicotine, although the specific contents of the vapor are proprietary and are not regulated. The liquid that is vaporized comes in hundreds of flavors.
Among youth in all three grades who had ever vaped, "just flavoring" was by far the most commonly vaped substance, with 59-62 percent of students reporting this answer in each grade. This answer was more common than all the others combined, said Richard Miech, the study's lead author.
Vaping of nicotine came in a distant second place at 20 percent to 22 percent among 10th- and 12th-grade students and 13 percent among 8th-graders.
Vaping of marijuana was reported by 6-7 percent of students in all grades, and the remainder either did not know what they had last vaped (6 percent, 7 percent and 14 percent in grades 12, 10 and 8, respectively) or had vaped some other substance (1 percent or less in each grade).
Researchers suggest that health and medical organizations should adjust their intervention strategies with these findings in mind.
"Messages aimed at curbing vaporizer and e-cigarette use among youth may not be successful if these messages center around the dangers of nicotine, given that most youth who vape do not believe they are using nicotine," Miech said.
Efforts to ban the sale of vaporizers and e-cigarettes to youth on the grounds that these devices always intrinsically deliver harmful substances may not be supported by scientific studies. Other rationales to ban sales may be more effective, the researchers indicated.
The widely used technical term "ENDS," which stands for Electronic Nicotine Delivery System, may be inappropriate to describe e-cigarettes and other vaporizer devices among adolescents if most youth use them for other substances.
The findings appear in the online journal Tobacco Control.