Georgia high school athletes more likely to vape, study finds

New research finds that athletic kids in Georgia before the pandemic were using e-cigarettes at a higher rate than students who got less exercise, potentially because of a mix of peer pressure and a misunderstanding of the health risks.

Students who were physically active four to five days a week were 23% more likely to vape than those who were active a day or less, the study by the University of Georgia found. About 7% of Georgia high school students vape.

“Our youth who tend to be on the healthy spectrum for physical health have heightened risk of using electronic vapor products,” Janani Rajbhandari-Thapa, the lead author of the study and an associate professor in UGA’s College of Public Health, said in a statement this week.

He and his team believe health conscious athletes may experience more peer pressure to use these products because of their extended social network. They may succumb to that pressure more readily because they assume it won’t harm them. The researchers found that athletes were less likely to smoke traditional cigarettes than less active kids yet more likely to use electronic vapor products, or EVPs.

“This kind of possible peer influence, combined with the possible false perception among adolescents that EVPs are safer, could have contributed to the higher risk of EVP among” athletes, the study said.

Other researchers have found that vape products can contain benzene, which is found in car fumes. And vape flavoring has been linked to lung disease.

Many adult smokers have switched to vaping, considering it healthier than traditional cigarettes. Georgia lawmakers heard those views in 2019, along with stories about students who vaped, such as a metro Atlanta boy with collapsed lungs.

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The UGA study uses survey responses from more than 362,000 students at 439 high schools collected in the Georgia Department of Education’s 2018 “Student Health Survey 2.0.” The findings represented responses from three-quarters of the state’s high school students.

It is the first such study in the United States, but researchers in Canada reported similar findings with high school students there. That study, published in 2019 in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found more vaping among boys than girls, similar to the results in Georgia.

The researchers in Canada also found boys tended to be more physically active than girls, adding that “male e-cigarettes users may perceive e-cigarettes to have a low health impact and may be an at-risk population for public health stakeholders to consider.”

Both studies suggested that policymakers target this population with messages about the health risks.