A person smokes a Juul Labs e-cigarette in an arranged photograph taken in Brooklyn, New York, on Dec. 20, 2018.
Gabby Jones/Bloomberg—Getty Images
September 9, 2020 2:22 PM EDT

Almost 2 million fewer U.S. teenagers report using e-cigarettes in 2020 compared to 2019, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Youth e-cigarette use remains an epidemic,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement released Wednesday, but the decline in underage vaping is dramatic.

About 20% of U.S. high school students and 5% of middle schoolers who responded to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey said they’d used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, compared to 27.5% and 10.5% in 2019. That means about 3.6 million teenagers are now considered current e-cigarette users, down from 5.4 million last year.

The news comes on the same day e-cigarette manufacturers must submit applications for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval after a years-long regulatory lull. The FDA gained the ability to regulate e-cigarettes in 2016. At that point, companies were required to apply for agency approval before selling any new products, but manufacturers that had e-cigarettes on the market before 2016 were not required to submit applications for their products until now.

In the applications, e-cigarette companies must prove that the potential public-health benefits of their products—namely, whether they help cigarette smokers switch to a less-risky product—outweigh the downsides, like addicting new and underage users. If fewer teenagers are vaping, e-cigarette makers may have an easier time convincing the FDA their products are beneficial.

E-cigarette companies were originally supposed to file their applications in May of this year, but the date was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic may also partially explain why fewer young people are vaping; teenagers who primarily vaped in school or at social events also may not have access to these products during lockdowns. In addition, anecdotal reports suggest some people have been driven to quit by studies published recently that suggest vaping could increase a user’s risk of having a serious case of COVID-19.

Studies have also shown that last year’s outbreak of vaping-related lung disease led to a spike in people trying to quit, even though health authorities eventually determined the illnesses were related to illicit THC vaping products rather than nicotine e-cigarettes.

Pod-based e-cigarettes, like those made by market-leader Juul Labs, are still the most commonly used e-cigarettes among teenagers, according to the CDC’s new data. (Juul filed its 125,000-page FDA application in July.) But cheap disposable cigarettes, like those made by Puff Bar, are skyrocketing in popularity. More than a quarter of high school e-cigarette users said they used disposable products in 2020, compared to only about 2% last year.

The FDA ordered Puff Bar to remove its products from the market in July, since they were introduced after the FDA started regulating e-cigarettes in 2016 but did not apply for agency approval in advance. But as a category, disposable products are not heavily regulated by the FDA. The agency in January forbid the sale of sweet, fruity or mint flavors for pod-based e-cigarette liquids, but the policy didn’t extend to disposable products, which at that time were not as popular as cartridge-style devices like Juul.

“The evidence couldn’t be clearer,” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said in a statement. “As long as any flavored e-cigarettes are left on the market, kids will get their hands on them and we will not solve this crisis.”

Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com.

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