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December 13, 2022

High school athletes are more likely to vape than their peers, despite making otherwise healthy choices

Researchers suggest an 'aggressive effort' to educate teenagers about the dangers of e-cigarettes as they remain the most popular tobacco product among young adults

High school athletes are more likely to vape than their less active peers, but less likely to smoke traditional cigarettes, according to a recent study. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics examined data from 30,762 high school students in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Among them, 16,790 students were involved in team sports. An analysis found that those athletes were more likely to use vapes, but less likely to smoke cigarettes than their peers. However, team sport participants were less likely to vape frequently than other students using the tobacco products, researchers found.

The study's authors point to high school athletes' tendency to avoid risky or unhealthy habits in comparison to other students as one reason why they may smoke less than their less active peers. As team sports combine "healthy behavior with social group involvement," researchers though it was important to analyze the potential risk factors for smoking.

As sports teams tend to be homogenous groups, newcomers are less likely to start or continue smoking once they begin playing for the team. The study notes that "athletes may be more likely to use forms of tobacco that are deleterious to health as long as these tobacco products are not generally thought to have a negative impact on athletic performance."  

Although researchers were unable to draw a cause from the data, previous research suggests that high school athletes consider vaping to be less dangerous than regular cigarettes. The 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 73% of adolescents believed vaping was less harmful than cigarette smoking, and 47% believed that vaping was less addictive than smoking, despite both being nicotine products. 

Despite perceptions that vaping is less harmful and less addictive than cigarettes, prior research has suggested that vapes increase respiratory issues similarly to cigarette smoking, and several cases of vaping-associated deaths have been reported. 

The study also notes that some of the carrier agents in e-cigarette liquids, when heated, generate known carcinogens including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein, suggesting that there may be some additional dangers posed by regular use. 

In June, the Food and Drug Administration ordered that Juul e-cigarettes must be taken off the market in the United States due to the products having "played a disproportionate role in the rise of youth vaping." The order came just two days after the FDA revealed plans to set a maximum nicotine level in tobacco products in order to reduce the risk of addiction among young people. 

E-cigarette manufacturers, and Juul in particular, have been heavily scrutinized by health officials and federal agencies since they first began selling tobacco products nationwide. Many of the products come in sweet flavors, which studies have found make them more popular among students. 

Researchers at the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested an "aggressive effort" to educate teenagers about the dangers of e-cigarette use in order to reduce the use of tobacco products among young people. The use of vapes can lead to cigarette smoking later in life, according to a 2021 study in the journal Pediatrics

On Monday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced a $38.8 million settlement with Juul for targeting young people and deceiving customers about the safety of e-cigarettes. The settlement comes more than two years after Shapiro sued the manufacturer over its "cynical" marketing practices that the state argues falsely portray Juul products as being safer than traditional cigarettes.

Under the terms of the agreement, Juul is unable to sponsor events unless they are exclusively for adults, and may not rent billboards or other marketing within 1,000 feet of any school or public playground in the state. The company must also limit online sales of its popular Juulpods. 

"The progress we've made over the years to prevent youth nicotine addiction was at risk of being totally undone by Juul, starting what (the) FDA has called a youth vaping epidemic," Shapiro said. "We can't undo that harm overnight, but actions like this settlement and other steps being taken by state and federal partners are making progress in protecting kids and public health." 

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