Teens Are Saying No to More and More Unhealthy Habits – Except One

 But they're saying yes to vaping in record numbers. 

Gen Z doesn’t seem interested in the ways that generations of teens before them let off steam. According to 44,482 teens surveyed across America as part of the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future Project,” the future of high school life seems to include a lot less alcohol and a lot more of something else.

Since 1975 the University of Michigan has collected questionnaires about substance use from teens in 8th, 10th and 12th grade throughout the United States each year. The results from 2018 show a few notable declines, suggesting that the teens are continuing to move away from binge drinking and cigarette smoking. But the report, whose data are available online ahead of the report’s official release in January in the New England Journal of Medicine, has one major takeaway: Vaping surged in record-breaking numbers this year.

Binge drinking is on the decline but vaping and nicotine use are up.
Binge drinking is on the decline but vaping and nicotine use are up.

Things That Are Less and Less Acceptable

This survey, like the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and reports by the World Health Organization, shows a 2.8-percent decrease in teen binge drinking. It also showed that the number of teens who disapprove of binge drinking increased slightly more over this same period of time. In 2017, 72.5 percent of teens said they would “strongly disapprove” of someone who had five or more drinks once or twice per weekend. In 2018, 75.5 percent of 12th-graders said they weren’t impressed by this type of behavior.

In other good news, opioid use among 12th-graders declined to 3.8 percent this year, down by 6.1 percent from its peak in 2004. Teens also continue to be unimpressed by smoking cigarettes. Only 4.6 percent of 8th, 10th and 12th-graders reported smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days, but the report indicates that overall nicotine use is actually up, which is probably driven by the huge increase in teens who vaped nicotine products this year.

Vaping Is Up (By a Lot)

The percentage of 12th-graders who had vaped nicotine products in the past 30 days increased from 11 percent in 2017 to 21 percent in 2018 — the biggest increase in a single year seen in any substance in the report’s 43 years of existence. Overall, the number suggests one in five 12th-graders in this survey reported vaping a nicotine product within 30 days of the survey.

Vaping in California.
Vaping of nicotine products, "just flavoring" and marijuana increased in this year.

But nicotine products aren’t the only things teens are loading into their JUULs (or competitors) this year. The survey makes it clear that vaping of all varieties is rising — whether it’s “just flavoring,” nicotine, or weed. The number of teens that vaped “just flavoring” went up by 4 percent among 10th-graders and 3.8 percent among 12th-graders. And while overall marijuana use was relatively stable, vaping marijuana actually rose by 2.1 percent this year across 8th, 10th and 12th-graders. Right now, the survey reports that 7.5 percent of 12th-graders vaped weed in the 30 days preceding the survey.

These numbers won’t come as a surprise to anyone following the FDA’s continued crackdown on vape manufacturers that allegedly target teens with their advertising efforts — though the companies often refute this accusation. But if the FDA was looking for more evidence that vaping appeals to teens for more than one reason, this survey just hand delivered it to them.