Importance: Understanding patterns of e-cigarette use and access during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is important because e-cigarettes may put users at risk for more severe respiratory effects and other health problems.
Objective: To examine whether underage youth and young adults who ever used e-cigarettes self-reported changes in access and use of e-cigarettes since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Design, setting, and participants: A national, cross-sectional online survey study was conducted from May 6 to May 14, 2020. This sample of 4351 participants aged 13 to 24 years across the US included 2167 e-cigarette ever-users. Quota sampling was used to balance for age, sex, race/ethnicity, and 50% having ever used e-cigarettes.
Main outcomes and measures: Change in e-cigarette use (increase, decrease, quit, no change, and switch to another product) and access to e-cigarettes (easier or harder, and change in point-of-purchase) before and after the COVID-19 pandemic began, reasons for change, number of times e-cigarettes were used, nicotine dependence, and sociodemographic data.
Results: This study focused on 2167 e-cigarette ever-users among 4351 participants who completed the survey. Among 2167 e-cigarette users, a total of 1442 were younger than 21 years and 725 were aged 21 years or older; 1397 were female (64.5%) and 438 identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (20.2%). The survey completion rate was 40%. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 1198 of 2125 e-cigarette users (56.4%) changed their use: 388 individuals (32.4%) quit, 422 individuals (35.3%) reduced the amount of nicotine, 211 individuals (17.6%) increased nicotine use, 94 individuals (7.8%) increased cannabis use, and 82 individuals (6.9%) switched to other products. Participants reported that not being able to go to vape shops and product unavailability were the reasons accessing e-cigarettes was difficult after the pandemic began. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, individuals reported purchasing from alternative retail stores (disposables, 150 of 632 [23.7%]; pod-based, 144 of 797 [18.1%]; and other e-cigarette, 125 of 560 [22.3%], ie, between 18.1% and 23.7%), purchasing online instead of retail (disposables, 115 of 632 [18.2%]; pod-based, 156 of 797 [19.6%]; and other e-cigarette, 111 of 560 [19.8%], ie, between 18.2% to 19.8%), and shifted to retail instead of online (disposables, 11 of 632 [1.7%]; pod-based, 17 of 797 [2.0%]; and other e-cigarette, 13 of 560 [2.3%], ie, between 1.7%-2.3%). Other individuals reported no change: from retail stores (disposables 262 of 632 [41.5%]; pod-based 344 of 797 [43.2%]; and other e-cigarette, 223 of 560 [39.8%], ie, between 39.8% and 43.2%) and online (disposables 94 of 632 [14.9%]; pod-based 136 of 797 [17.1%]; and other e-cigarette, 88 of 560 [15.8%], ie, between 14.9% and 17.1%). Underage youth reported e-cigarette deliveries from vape shops and/or dealers or friends who received such deliveries, and 63 of 229 (27.5%) self-reported accessing e-cigarettes without age verification. e-Cigarette users were 52% less likely to quit or reduce their use if they previously used e-cigarettes between 11 and 99 times (adjusted odds ratio, 0.48; 95% CI, 0.30-0.78), 68% less likely to quit if they previously used e-cigarettes more than 100 times (adjusted odds ratio, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.20-0.51), and 51% were less likely to quit if they were nicotine dependent (adjusted odds ratio, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.35-0.70).
Conclusions and relevance: During the COVID-19 pandemic, youth e-cigarette users reported changes in e-cigarette use, point-of-purchase, and ability to purchase e-cigarettes without age verification. The US Food and Drug Administration and local policy makers may find these data useful to inform policies to prevent e-cigarette sales to underage youth.