Last year, in September, the US Food and Drug Administration put out a stern press release declaring vaping “an epidemic” among young people, particularly minors. We’ve detailed some information about how vaping tobacco appears to be a gateway into other tobacco use for young people, rather than an exit path for adult smokers looking to quit. Now, it seems, that the FDA agrees with this assessment and has new research to back it.

FDA Commissioner Gottlieb now calls teen vaping one of the agency’s “biggest public health challenges.” According to the CDC, one in five high-schoolers took up vaping in 2018, a significant jump from 2017. The data comes courtesy of the National Youth Tobacco Survey, an extensive, anonymous poll of middle school and high school students across the country.

Last November, preliminary information from the survey estimated that over 3.6 million minors used vaping products at least once in the past 30 days in 2018. Even more startling is how quickly these numbers are increasing, with more than 1.5 million more children admitting vaping in 2018 than 2017. More than one in four high schoolers (27 percent) used tobacco products, while one in 14 middle schoolers (7.2 percent) did the same.

Nicotine vaporized in these products is derived from the tobacco plant, and it emulates smoking a cigarette, although it is not from the same kind of tobacco that is used in paper cigarettes. One vaping company says they are currently working on a “synthetic” nicotine product as well. Nicotine is highly addictive.

FDA research has suggested that teens who vape are more likely to switch to tobacco cigarettes eventually. It’s unknown if vaping is actually “safer” although proponents say it helps people quit smoking. Studies on long-term effects of vaping have not yet been conducted.

“We must stop the trends of youth e-cigarette use from continuing to build and will take whatever action is necessary to ensure these kids don’t become future smokers,” said Gottlieb in a statement.

Last November, in conjunction with the CDC’s release of teen vaping data, the FDA announced that it would continue to pursue heavy restrictions on vape products, especially those that offer flavors that entice young people, such as the ones that are popular with teens and come in flavors that range from fruit to bubblegum flavors.