E-cigarettes

Most Adolescent Vapers Are Not Nicotine Users

A new study makes the CDC's equation of vaping with tobacco use look even more ridiculous.

|

National Youth Tobacco Survey

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), having decided to regulate tobacco-free e-cigarettes as tobacco products because they deliver tobacco-derived nicotine, now has the challenge of explaining how even nicotine-free e-liquids can qualify for the same label. E-cigarette alarmists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a similar problem. They insist on counting vaping as "tobacco use," which leads them to claim there has been "no decline in overall youth tobacco use since 2011," even though that is clearly not true. Now a new study in the journal Tobacco Control reveals the CDC's position to be even more ridiculous than it already seemed, showing that a large majority of teenagers who vape are not only not consuming tobacco; they are not consuming nicotine either.

Based on data from the 2015 Monitoring the Future Study, which surveys students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, Richard Miech and three of his colleagues at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (which conducts the survey) report that nearly two-thirds of teenagers who have tried vaping consumed "just flavoring" the last time they did it. "Nicotine use came in a distant second," Miech et al. write, "at about 20% in 12th and 10th grade and 13% in 8th grade." The other options were marijuana and "don't know."

The survey data indicate that the more frequently teenagers vape, the more likely they are to vape nicotine. Among high school seniors, 47 percent of those who had vaped six or more times in the previous month reported consuming nicotine, compared to 23 percent of those who had vaped one to five times in the previous month. But "in no case did the prevalence of nicotine vaping reach 50% or greater."

The fact that most adolescent vapers do not vape nicotine was mentioned in a summary of the 2015 survey results published last year, as Pennsylvania anti-smoking activist (and harm reduction advocate) Bill Godshall pointed out at the time. I noted that finding in a blog post last April and a column last June. But the Tobacco Control article presents more-detailed data on this question and highlights the CDC's mendacity.

It was already absurd to claim teenagers were using tobacco when they weren't, especially since the CDC used that inaccurate terminology to imply that the rising popularity of vaping somehow cancels out the health gains from the continuing decline in smoking, a far more dangerous habit. Now that it's clear the typical adolescent vaper is not even using nicotine, the CDC cannot assume any chemical connection between e-cigarettes and tobacco. Furthermore, its warnings that teenagers might start smoking after they get hooked on nicotine by vaping look even more overblown than they did before. As Meich et al. note, even the practice of referring to vaporizers as "electronic nicotine delivery systems" (as both the CDC and the FDA do) is quite misleading, at least in the context of adolescent use.

"The majority of US youth who use vaporisers and e-cigarettes do not vape nicotine," the authors write. "This finding challenges many common assumptions and practices." The numbers "suggest that the recent rise in adolescent vaporiser use does not necessarily indicate a nicotine epidemic," and they show how misleading the CDC's equation of vaping with tobacco use is. Meich et al. note that counting every vaper as a tobacco user doubles the supposed prevalence of tobacco use among 12th-graders and nearly triples it among 10th- and eighth-graders. If vapers are counted as tobacco users only when they vape nicotine (still a dubious maneuver), the effect is much less dramatic. "If vaporiser users are considered nicotine users only if they last vaped nicotine in the last 30 days," the researchers say, "then national estimates of nicotine prevalence increase by a much smaller percentage of 23–38% across the three grades," compared to the increases of 100 percent to 200 percent seen with the CDC's method.

In referring to "national estimates of nicotine prevalence," Meich et al. are being kind to the CDC, which describes adolescent vaping as "tobacco use" rather than "nicotine use." It turns out both descriptions are wrong. But don't expect a correction from the CDC. Although it is supposedly a scientific organization, the CDC refuses to call things by their right names when accurate terminology gets in the way of a good public health scare.

NEXT: The Fifth Column on Trump, Immigration Politics, and Colin Kaepernick

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 Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Yes yes, but what bathroom are vapers supposed to use? The ones that correspond to cigarette users? And what about vapers who sometimes use liquid with nicotine in it? What if they smoke Dutch Masters?

  2. Also, vaping helped me quit smoking. True story. The CDC can fuck right off.

    1. Well, I guess that means that any day now we can expect you to take up the cancer sticks. Ticking time bomb.

    2. I think a big part of this issue isn’t just the regulatory aspect of the FDA and the CDC. Kids routinely vaping nicotine in an on-and-off-again manner kinda draws some very questionable notions about addiction and the science that goes/went into it. At this point, I know far more people who’ve smoked around a handful of times or at a rate nearly indistinguishable from zero than I do actual smokers. Of the smoker’s I know who’ve stopped, a significant portion are no longer substantially motivated by nicotine one way or the other despite it being 10X as addictive as heroin (or whatever).

      I’d love to say it would an unprecedented misunderstanding in the fundamental science guiding policy but the food pyramid has been fucked since it was conceived.

      1. I suspect the “science” of addiction has more to do with controlling behavior than actually determining its nature.

      2. The big thing about addiction that doesn’t get mentioned so much for some reason is that some people are way more prone to addiction than others. There’s not some formula that if you do so much of drug X then you will be an addict.

        The more addictive than heroin thing is BS too. I think that just comes from a survey of former heroin users who were asked if it was harder to quit cigarettes than heroin. Makes sense that the ones still smoking would say “yes”.

        1. “some people are way more prone to addiction than others.”

          This x 1000.

          I’ve mentioned my high school buddy before. You name it, he would do it to excess. Smoke, drink, sex, pot, coke. Died around age 50 during a party at his trailer. And the people at the party just threw a sheet over him and partied on till dawn when someone finally decided to call the authorities. Bizarre. But no law was going to save him from himself. His whole life was just a long suicide.

        2. The big thing about addiction that doesn’t get mentioned so much for some reason is that some people are way more prone to addiction than others.

          I think Francisco has got it right. It’s harder to stampede the cattle if each and every cow considers itself a nuanced individual.

          Stayed in a hotel recently where there were matches in the room and ashtrays on the porches and balconies. It seemed very retro. I could see how, if there were clean needles in every room and biohazardous waste bins littered about the property, heroin might edge out nicotine. The 10X as addictive as heroin isn’t to get smokers to quit and isn’t really meant to. It’s to get non-smokers and bar/nightclub/hotel/restaurant owners to stop catering to worse-than-heroin addicts.

  3. Filed under “hilariously gullible Reason author posts”

    1. You’ve convinced me.

  4. It’s the word. “Vaping”. I don’t like the sound of that. Sounds like some sort of drug lingo. You think any clean living upright American goes around “vaping” ? Sounds like something dirty hippies, trailer trash or people in the ghetto do to get high. Then I find out it’s a way for kids to secretly get hooked on cigarettes ? I’m glad the FDA is regulating these things.

    1. Sounds like something dirty hippies, trailer trash or people in the ghetto do to get high.

      Actually, it sounds lots more pedestrian than (e.g.) huffing, IMO. But you’re overarching point is well-taken; as long as we can associate it with trailer park scum and/or the poor then the FDA should be regulating it. We at least have to do something because, once it makes it’s way into the inner cities, then we have to get other LEOs involved.

      1. I’ll drink to that.

  5. ….now has the challenge of explaining how even nicotine-free e-liquids can qualify for the same label. E-cigarette alarmists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a similar problem….

    Challenge. Problem.

    Unilaterally wielding godlike power and control over a population helpless to stop them.

    Sure, these can feel like the same thing.

  6. Well, in their defense, look at all the children they saved by banning candy cigarettes.

  7. I’m well-known for my adolescent vaping.

    1. I’m well-known for my adolescent vaping fapping.

      ftfy

  8. Although it is supposedly a scientific organization, the CDC refuses to call things by their right names when accurate terminology gets in the way of a good public health scare.

    “Supposedly” is a good term to use. The CDC is heavily biased.

  9. CDC, like the FDA, can eat a bag of rotten dicks.

    1. CDC is wholly politized and dedicated only to expanding their own power and pet assumptions. they occasionally see science as a means to their end when it can be suitably twisted, but that’s the extent of the relationship.

  10. Maybe they should have used the money pissed away on this pointless study to work on that Zika thing that they allegedly don’t have the resources to address.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.