AP
A man breathes vape from an e-cigarette at a vape shop in London, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

When it comes to the use of alcohol and drugs among American teenagers, much of the news is good.

The federally funded “Monitoring the Future” survey on drug use, released this week, found that kids are drinking less alcohol, and that includes a reduction in binge drinking, as well. They also are abusing opioids less than in the past.

But one big, emerging concern deserves immediate attention. High school students are “vaping” with e-cigarettes at an alarming rate. Almost 21 percent of seniors reported having vaped a product containing nicotine within the previous month. One year ago, that figure was 11 percent, making this the biggest one-year increase in the use of any substance among teenagers during the 43-year history of the survey.

As we have reported previously, teens in Utah tend to mirror the national trend on vaping, although to a lesser extent. More needs to be done to educate young people on the long-term effects of this habit.

E-cigarettes use batteries to heat flavored nicotine and other substances, creating an odorless vapor the user inhales. The process began as a less-carcinogenic way for cigarette smokers to consume nicotine while trying to end their tobacco habits. People who found nicotine patches and gums ineffective hoped the vapor would help them quit while also reducing the harm they were doing to themselves. E-cigarettes don’t contain the tars in regular cigarettes.

It didn’t take long, however, for manufacturers to begin marketing these products to under-aged users, providing them in various sweet flavors and producing internet ads that made users appear smart and sophisticated — all the tricks traditional tobacco companies once used before their ads were banned.

" The United States has invested too much over more than 50 years in the effort to reduce cigarette smoking to see such a stark reversal. "

Many young people incorrectly believe these products are harmless. But the younger you are, the more dangerous they can be. Nicotine is extremely addictive, and it can damage brain development in adolescents. In addition, lax regulations have made the ingredients in e-cigarettes largely a mystery. Studies have shown the products release an unhealthy amount of toxic metals.

Last month, the FDA announced new restrictions on the sales of sweetened liquids for e-cigarettes. Only stores that can enforce strict age controls on sales may sell them.

This may have an effect on usage, although some advocates worry it will only move under-aged sales to the black market. We would have preferred tougher regulations, including a ban on internet advertising and online sales. If e-cigarettes are intended to help adults quit their cigarette habits, their use should be limited to this. The United States has invested too much over more than 50 years in the effort to reduce cigarette smoking to see such a stark reversal.

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Most importantly, high school students must be educated about the dangers posed by nicotine. Studies show it can cause cancer and lead to cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, among other things.

Traditional smoking didn’t wane until the culture that had cultivated it began to change. Today it is seen generally as a harmful habit that can hurt others who inhale it secondhand.

That effort proved so successful that teenage smoking is at its lowest level in the survey’s history. That, and the other figures on declining substance abuse are encouraging.

However, the nation can’t afford to take a giant step backward with a new and harmful product.