Researchers estimate that half of all high school students in the United States have tried vaping at least once. One third of these students vape regularly. Since e-cigarettes were introduced to the U.S. in 2013, they’ve become more and more popular, especially among teens. From 2019-2020, the popularity of disposable e-cigarette use among U.S. high school students who currently vaped went up by 1,000 percent, from 2.4% to 26.5%, according to the CDC.
A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine uses survey data from more than 38,000 U.S. high school students from 2015-2019 to determine how prevalent vaping is in different sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity groups. What they found are dramatic differences in vaping rates across these markers of identity, and sometimes in surprising patterns.
Co-written by Andy Tan, associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, the study fills in a wide gap that exists in e-cigarette studies—research on vaping prevalence among young people at the intersections of more than one minoritized identity.
The study uncovers significant differences in the prevalence of current e-cigarette use between lesbian and heterosexual girls when comparing across racial groups.
Current e-cigarette use was higher in Black girls who identify as lesbian compared to Black girls who identify as heterosexual (18.2% versus 7.1%). The rate was also higher in multiracial girls who identify as lesbian compared to multiracial girls who identify as heterosexual (17.9% versus 11.9%).
On the other hand, white girls who identify as lesbian were found to be at lower risk of current vaping compared to white girls who identify as heterosexual (9.1% versus 16.1%).
Among boys, there were no significant interactions between sexual orientation and race or ethnicity in relation to vaping prevalence.
Previous surveys of gay and lesbian teens suggest that e-cigarette use might be a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination or bullying—or a way to bond with others in their social circle, the authors says. However, prior studies have not reported how e-cigarette use prevalence among youth differ at the intersections of sexual orientation, sex, race, and ethnicity.
This story is by Hailey Reissman. Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.