CDC Belatedly Reveals That Smoking by Teenagers Dropped While Vaping Rose


FIN e-cigarette ad

Last September the CDC noted with alarm that the percentage of teenagers who had tried electronic cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012. "Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes," CDC Director Tom Frieden worried. In a Medscape interview a few weeks later, Frieden suggested that fear had already materialized, asserting that "many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes." Yet the CDC's data, which came from the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), did not support that claim. In fact, nine out of 10 high school students who reported vaping in the previous month were already cigarette smokers, suggesting that the increase in e-cigarette consumption might signal successful harm reduction. Last week the CDC reported additional NYTS data that further undermine Frieden's claim, showing that smoking among teenagers fell as vaping rose.

Between 2011 and 2012, when the share of middle school students who reported using e-cigarette in the previous month rose from 0.6 percent to 1.1 percent, the share reporting past-month consumption of conventional cigarettes fell from 4.3 percent to 3.5 percent. Among high school students, past-month e-cigarette use rose from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent, while past-month consumption of tobacco cigarettes fell from 15.8 percent to 14 percent. Although these trends do not necessarily mean e-cigarettes are responsible for the decline in smoking, the numbers hardly seem consistent with the story Frieden is eager to tell: that the availability of e-cigarettes is leading to more smoking than would otherwise occur.

Since the numbers showing an increase in vaping come from the very same survey as the numbers showing a decrease in smoking, it is puzzling that the CDC decided to highlight the first trend two months before the latter one, especially since the smoking data suggest Frieden's fear, which was repeated and amplified by various activists and politicians pushing for strict e-cigarette regulation, is misplaced. But the omisision is puzzling only if you assume the CDC is mainly interested in the truth, as opposed to scientific-sounding justifications for an irrational anti-vaping prejudice. Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel, who sees e-cigarettes as a valuable harm reduction tool, comments

This decline in cigarette smoking was not reported in the earlier CDC report on the increase in electronic cigarette use, nor was it mentioned in any of the multitude of interviews or news articles regarding the increase in youth e-cigarette use….

The opportunity to see the data on trends in cigarette smoking would have helped the public to see that there was no scientific support for the CDC's conclusion. I thus find it curious that these important data were not reported until weeks after the media [had] already disseminated the conclusion that e-cigarettes are a dangerous gateway to cigarette smoking. The CDC officials certainly had plenty of opportunity to let the public know that there was no discernible increase in cigarette smoking among youth concomitant with the observed increase in e-cigarette use. It seems to me that this is a critical finding to report.

My impression remains that there is, for some reason (perhaps related to ideology), a pre-determined conclusion that e-cigarettes are evil. Instead of fairly reporting all of the evidence, only the evidence that supports the pre-determined conclusions [is] being shared. 

Does the gateway effect Frieden fears—a switch from e-cigarettes to conventional cigarettes among people who otherwise would never smoke—show up after high school? Not according to a recent survey of college students, in which only 3.3 percent said e-cigarettes were the first form of nicotine they'd tried. Of those, only one (2.3 percent) later started smoking conventional cigarettes. "It didn't seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything," the lead researcher said.

[Thanks to Bill Godshall for the tip.]

NEXT: Mass. High School Cancels Football Season over Racist Grafitti

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I’ve heard that vaping can be enjoyable. Ban it.

  2. Semi-related: NY1’s call-in/political show last night had New Yorker after New Yorker saying that raising the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21 was a good thing, because it’s terrible that kids smoke as early as 11 or 12 years old.

    I usually cringe when people say, “I just can’t.” But… I just can’t.

    1. raising the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21 was a good thing, because it’s terrible that kids smoke as early as 11 or 12 years old.


      1. Emotions crowding out logic seems to explain that sentence.

    2. The argument is that it is more likely that a person under 18 would know someone 18 to buy them cigarettes than know a 21-year-old to do that for them.

      It actually makes sense. It would have been far easier for me to get booze bought for me by an 18-year-old in high school than the very few 21-year-olds I knew.

      But if 18 year-olds aren’t adults, why can they vote or join the military? And if they logic is sound why not raise the drinking/smoking age to 35? There’s probably less than a dozen 11-year-olds in the entire country that know someone who is 35 willing to buy a pack of smokes for them.

  3. Vaping? Vick’s VapoRub? Vampire raping? What the fuck is vaping?

    1. It’s raping, but with a “v”. So, virtual rape or something. Because everything is rape, ProL. Everything.

      1. ProL is already aware of this important fact. He was playing dumb. You fell for it.

        1. “Playing” dumb?

            1. Saying dumb.

              1. Spaying dumb would actually have been more valuable.

                1. Actually, ProL reproduces asexually, so spaying him would do no good. He releases some kind of spores or something. He claims not to be a Bodysnatcher, but every time he lets out one of those high-pitched screams, I believe him less.

                  1. Come on, dude, relax. Have a nap next to this totally innocuous pod.

      2. Ah, so this is something the kids are into?

  4. Kids and Arabs (isn’t vaping kind of like shisha smoking?). We should ban it twice as hard because of the Arabs.

    1. No, you actually smoke shisha, though it’s filtered through water before you breathe it in.

  5. I’ve read about some long-time smokers that used the e-cigs as a means of eventually quitting nicotine use altogether. After going off the refills, they just used the empty cigarette as a kind of pacifier for a few weeks until their body de-toxed, then stopped.

    1. It kinda doesn’t matter if they quit using nicotine or not, if the drug is no longer giving them cancer and killing them.

      1. It kinda doesn’t matter if they quit using nicotine or not

        Yes it does: they can’t enjoy something which doesn’t hurt anyone else (or even themselves), now can they?

        In Canada it is possible to buy e-cigs; but not nicotine-containing liquids.

  6. A teen was just cited in one of the Minneapolix suburbs for possessing an e-cig.

    No link: it was in the police report part of the fishwrap.

  7. Those guys really do not have a clue. None!

  8. Thank you so much, for printing this important information. It’s such a shame that groups like CDC place money over the lives of millions of people. I’m very appreciative you’ve exposed their nonsense, & calmed the hearts & minds of adults who do care about the health & well being of others.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.