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Campus shutdowns forced many students to move back in with family, causing ripple effects on how much young adults vape and drink. Michele Pevide/Getty Images
  • A new survey indicates that two-thirds of teens and young adults have reduced their use of e-cigarettes, or quit altogether, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • College students who moved back in with their parents after campus shutdowns reported drinking less alcohol, according to another study.
  • Experts say that closer parental supervision during pandemic lockdowns as well as concerns about overall health are factors in the decreased vaping and alcohol use.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

Having more time on their hands during the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t resulted in more young people taking up e-cigarettes and alcohol in 2020.

If anything, it’s caused more of them to cut back, or even quit, according to two new studies.

Campus shutdowns due to COVID-19 have forced many students to move back in with family, causing ripple effects on how much young adults vape and drink.

More parental involvement and fewer opportunities to socialize were main factors cited by both reports.

The e-cigarette research also noted an increased awareness in overall health issues among young people.

More than two-thirds of teen and young adult users in the United States have reduced their e-cigarette use during the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to the study published last week in JAMA Network Open.

However, researchers said 18 percent of those surveyed increased nicotine use, 8 percent used cannabis more, and 7 percent switched to other smoking products during the spring, when much of the country began shutting down in response to COVID-19.

The study surveyed 4,351 people from age 13 to 24 between May 6 and 14.

Researchers said the decline was mainly due to people having less access to stores.

Since the pandemic began, 32 percent of e-cigarette users said they quit. Another 35 percent said they’d reduced their use.

Both groups cited “product unavailability” as the main reason.

Doctors told Healthline the decline was likely due to a number of factors in addition to brick-and-mortar stores closing.

The factors included more parental supervision, less in-person socializing, and a heightened awareness of health issues.

Dr. Ilan Shapiro, a pediatrician for AltaMed in Southern California, said the survey provides some good news in 2020.

“The access to products is difficult,” Shapiro told Healthline. “If you’re home all the time, you’re being supervised more. They can’t share with other teens. It’s a social thing and, right now, that contact has diminished.”

The same thing could be said for alcohol users, according to a new study published in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Helene R. White, PhD, a lead researcher on the study as well as a professor with the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said in a statement the school closures in spring of 2020 provided “the perfect natural experiment” to study students’ alcohol use.

The study looked at 312 “emerging adults” — mostly college juniors and seniors — for 2 months following campus shutdowns. Researchers asked about students’ living situations and their alcohol consumption.

Alcohol users who went from living with other students to living with their parents decreased alcohol use from 3.1 days per week to 2.7.

Those who kept living with peers “significantly increased drinking days per week, from 3 to 3.7, and those remaining with parents increased from 2 to 3.3 days per week.”

The number of drinks per week for students moving back in with parents went from almost 14 to 8. Those remaining with peers took about the same number of drinks per week, 10.6 to 11. Those living at home before and after the shutdowns drank more afterward, 6.7 to 9.4. per week.

Living under parental eyes hasn’t been the only factor in students cutting down on drinking.

Thomas G. Plante, PhD, who teaches health psychology at Santa Clara University in California, told Healthline the lack of socializing with peers is a big factor.

“Kids don’t enjoy playing beer pong at home with mom and dad,” said Plante, who also teaches at Stanford University in California. “Alcohol consumption overall is up. People are at home, they aren’t driving, and they are either stressed out or bored. Yet, college students are very social drinkers as a rule and do so at parties, which is off limits during the pandemic.”

Shapiro also said the pandemic coincided with more research showing how harmful vaping can be to children.

“Two years before the pandemic, we were having issues with ‘vaping lung.’ Kids were going in hospitals,” Shapiro said. “We had an opportunity to teach in that moment. With the coronavirus, it’s probably helping awareness about teen vaping and the health implications.”

Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a New York-based expert in internal medicine, told Healthline store closures are “only a small piece of the puzzle.”

“There is truly not just one clear-cut reason as to why this group cut back,” she said.

Okeke-Igbokwe said parental scrutiny and lack of peer pressure were factors likely as big as store closures.

“Finally, there was a greater recognition and emphasis on the importance of heath maintenance worldwide, and this message resonated across all age groups,” she said. “Perhaps some level of fear was instilled in these teens and young adults about the extent to which vaping may harm their health and increase their risk of COVID-19 illness and complications.”

Cassandra LeClair, PhD, teaches communication studies at Texas State University and transitioned to online teaching last spring. She told Healthline there’s a variety of factors as to why students’ alcohol consumption went down, one of which is health.

“Some stayed in to protect their parents’ health and others had to follow their parents’ rules since they were home,” LeClair told Healthline. “Many of my students were also essential workers and they started picking up more shifts and did not have as much time to go out. Others had to find different jobs when bars and restaurants closed, so they had new responsibilities to keep up with in addition to school.”

The e-cigarette survey showed that as many as 20 percent of young users began buying products online since the pandemic began.

Many of those under 21 said they were able to buy e-cigarettes without any age verification.

Pat Folan, RN, the director of Northwell Health’s Center for Tobacco Control in Great Neck, New York, told Healthline that family closeness necessitated by the pandemic opened some parental eyes as to what their children have been doing.

“Some studies indicate that parents whose children vaped were less aware of this behavior than parents whose children smoked traditional cigarettes,” Folan said. “With children being home more, parents are becoming more aware of the vaping and its addictive nature. Parents may be encouraging their teens and young adults (to) quit. We have had many calls to our tobacco cessation program from concerned parents regarding their children’s use of e-cigarettes and their request for help.”

E-cigarettes have been advertised in some circles as a safe alternative to smoking, a claim many researchers now say isn’t valid.

“Some studies have associated vaping with a higher risk of COVID-19, but the bigger reason for the drop in vaping usage is an overall increase in awareness about the negative health impacts of vaping on teens and young adults,” Brian Wind, PhD, the chief clinical officer of national substance abuse treatment chain JourneyPure, told Healthline.

“Teens and young adults may feel infallible, given their young age, but media articles and news about other teens and young adults suffering illnesses, or even death, due to heavy vaping usage have made the dangers very real to them,” he added.

Wind, who is a clinical psychologist, said more regulations against flavored e-cigarettes can further bring usage down and help others to quit.

“Cigarette smoking was associated with bad breath and yellowed teeth, which may have led teens and young adults to turn to vaping instead,” he said. “By removing the flavors that mask the scent of e-cigarette smoke, the attractiveness of vaping may decrease. E-cigarettes are also very easy to conceal and rules on their design that makes them more conspicuous and less disposable may discourage their usage.”

The American Lung Association provides tips for young people and their parents to quit smoking and vaping.