E-cigarette sales in the US spiked between 2020 and 2022, especially among flavours that appeal to youth users, according to a study from health authorities released Thursday.
Overall e-cigarette monthly unit sales went up nearly 47% from the start of 2020 to the end of 2022, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.
In January 2020, right before the Covid-19 pandemic reached the US, 15.5 million e-cigarettes were sold, while 22.7 million units were sold in December 2022, the study said.
The hike was especially pronounced among sweet flavours favoured by young users of e-cigarettes, also called vapes.
"After January 2020, sales of mint and other flavoured prefilled cartridges ceased, and disposable e-cigarettes in fruit, sweet, and other flavours increased," the study, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, showed.
"Disposable e-cigarettes in youth-appealing flavours are now more commonly sold than prefilled units," it noted.
E-cigarettes were introduced in the early 2000s as a less harmful replacement for regular cigarettes, which are packed with cancer-causing chemicals.
But an emerging body of research has shown vapes can also be highly addictive, and often result in young users turning to cigarettes as a way to get their nicotine fix.
According to the CDC, youths and young adults tend to use e-cigarettes more than adults overall – more than 14% of US high schoolers said they had vaped in the last month in 2022, while the year before that only 4.5% of all adults said they had.
"The tobacco industry is well aware that flavours appeal to and attract kids, and that young people are uniquely vulnerable to nicotine addiction," anti-smoking non-profit Truth Initiative chief Robin Koval said in a statement released by the CDC in response to Thursday's study.
"We all must work with even greater urgency to protect our nation's youth from all flavoured e-cigarettes, including disposables," she added.
The two-year increase has come despite the US Food and Drug Administration's 2020 announcement that it would prioritise enforcing rules against unauthorised flavoured vaping products, given their appeal to teenagers and children.
And though there was an overall jump over the nearly three-year period, sales did decline more than 12% between May and December 2022.
That may be at least partly explained by sales restrictions on flavoured e-cigarettes, in place in seven states and hundreds of local municipalities by the end of last year, the study said.
According to the study, "states such as Massachusetts, which have well-enforced comprehensive flavour restrictions, have experienced large and sustained declines in total e-cigarette sales."
It also found that "use of tobacco products among young persons declined" after flavoured tobacco products were restricted in certain areas.
Earlier this year, e-cigarette company Juul agreed to pay US$462 million (RM2.148 billion) to six states and the District of Columbia to settle charges that it violated numerous laws in marketing tobacco products to youth.
Though e-cigarette use has increased in the United States in recent years, traditional cigarette smoking has reached an all-time low of about 11% among adults in 2022, according to CDC data released in April.