June 13, 2019

New Data Shows Trends in Teen Health

Teens in Massachusetts are smoking less but vaping more than they were two years ago.

While teenagers’ use of conventional cigarettes continues to decline, the percentage of teenagers using electronic vapor products (EVPs), such as e-cigarettes, has risen sharply in Massachusetts since 2016, according to new research from EDC and the MetroWest Health Foundation.

The rapid rise in teenagers’ vaping behaviors was just one finding from the 2018 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, a biennial survey of the health and behaviors of more than 41,000 middle and high school students in 25 Massachusetts communities. EDC has conducted the study, which is funded by the MetroWest Health Foundation, since 2006.

Regarding EVPs, the 2018 survey findings included the following:

  • 41% (2 out of 5) of high school students reported having ever used an EVP, an increase of 13 percentage points since 2016.
  • 28% of students reported using an EVP in the last 30 days.
  • By contrast, only 3% of students reported smoking a conventional cigarette within the last 30 days.

“While this increase in vaping is consistent with national trends, it is concerning given new research about the dangers of high doses of nicotine and the other harmful effects of the chemicals in vaping products,” says EDC’s Shari Kessel Schneider, who led the research.

The full 2018 survey results paint a comprehensive, but complex, picture of teenagers’ substance use, mental health, and behaviors. The study found:

  • Teenagers’ alcohol use continues to decline. In 2018, 28% of students indicated that they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, down from 42% in 2006.
  • Teenagers’ lifetime use of marijuana is slightly higher, increasing from 28% of high school students in 2016 to 31% in 2018. Future data will indicate whether these higher reports indicate a new trend.
  • 36% of respondents indicated that life was “very stressful” in the past 30 days, up from 28% in 2006.
  • One fifth of all high school students reported having depressive symptoms within the past 12 months.
  • 28% of high school students reported spending three or more hours on social media on the average school day. High social media use is associated with substance use, mental health problems, and getting less sleep.

Schneider says that the 2018 survey highlights areas of continuing concern.

“It is alarming that so many teenagers are reporting that they are experiencing stress, and that reports have steadily increased, particularly among girls. That points to the need for schools to continue to implement stress reduction and mental health support programs for all students,” she says.

Since 2006, the results of the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey have been used to inform school and community health promotion efforts in Massachusetts. The full collection of survey results is available online.