Adolescent Smoking Falls Again, Confounding E-Cigarette Alarmists

The latest survey results deal another blow to the hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking.


Monitoring the Future Study

New survey results deal yet another blow to the hypothesis that vaping leads to smoking, showing that conventional cigarettes are less popular than ever among teenagers despite the recent surge in adolescent experimentation with e-cigarettes. In the Monitoring the Future Study, the percentages of eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders who reported smoking cigarettes during the previous month fell again this year, continuing a downward trend that began in the late 1990s.

This survey began asking about e-cigarette use in 2014, and the share of teenagers who report vaping in the previous month has been falling since then. Among eighth-graders, past-month use fell from 8.7 percent in 2014 to 8 percent last year and 6.2 percent this year. Among 10th-graders, the rate was 16.2 percent in 2014, 14.2 percent this year, and 11 percent this year. Among 12th-graders, it fell from 17.1 percent in 2014 to 16.3 percent last year and 12.5 percent this year.

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, past-month vaping among high school students rose dramatically between 2011 and 2015—"an astounding 900 percent," as Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently put it. The latter survey also shows a continuing decline in adolescent smoking, which last year hit a record low. Somehow that trend has not put a damper on warnings from alarmists like Murthy that e-cigarettes might be a gateway to the real thing.

Even Richard Miech, a Monitoring the Future researcher who recently pointed out that most adolescent vapers do not vape nicotine, seems unable to shake this unsupported fear. "Vaping may lead to friendship networks that encourage vapers to smoke," he says in a press release. "Also, vapers may come to believe the dangers of smoking are exaggerated if they do not experience any immediate health consequences from vaping." Maybe, but so far there is very little evidence that anything like that is happening.

"Whether adolescent vaping has peaked or only paused is something we will be able to determine in the coming years," Miech says. "In the past, we have seen new drugs follow a pattern in which use increases at a fast pace during a honeymoon period and then reverses course and declines as knowledge of the substance's drawbacks became known." If vaping by teenagers is waning, maybe the panic about it, which for too long has overshadowed the tremendous harm-reducing potential of e-cigarettes for people who otherwise would be smoking, will finally abate.

"At this point," writes Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel, "it is clear that whatever the risks of youth vaping may be, one of them is not the risk of progressing to smoking. If this hypothesis were true, we would simply not be seeing the historic declines in youth smoking that are occurring. Quite clearly, smoking continues to be de-normalized, not re-normalized as anti-tobacco groups and many health agencies have claimed. It appears that a culture of vaping is largely replacing a culture of smoking. If anything, it appears that the advent of e-cigarettes has accelerated the de-normalization of smoking by largely replacing it….Vaping appears not to be making smoking more cool, as claimed by the Surgeon General, the CDC, and anti-tobacco groups, but to be making smoking less cool. It also appears that there has been a plateau and now a decline in the rising fad of youth vaping, which should help ease the concerns of anti-tobacco groups that an entire generation of kids is going to be addicted to nicotine."

Note: This post, which originally said Monitoring the Future first asked about e-cigarette use in 2015, has been corrected and updated with survey numbers from 2014, which were omitted from this year's MTF report.

NEXT: Teenagers Dismay Prohibitionists by Consuming Less Cannabis

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  1. Damn kids! Go out and have some stupid fun.

  2. Look, nicotine is bad, Ok?

    *sips coffee*

    1. *crushes Monster energy drink, plays Xbox until 4 in the morning*

    2. If only there was a way to get nicotine into coffee.

      1. Foods have nicotine in them tea potatoes tomatoes etc

        1. Tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, gooseberries, eggplants, and tobacco are all members of the same family as nightshade.

          1. Ok, so I don’t grow them next to my pot plant, got it.

  3. Someone in Washington is going to propose that tobacco companies are again permitted to use cartoon mascots like Joe Camel to encourage youth smoking again.

  4. You know I’m starting to suspect that at the anti-tobacco lobby is just a massive racket that desperately needs to keep the corporate bogeyman alive so they can continue to receive funding from the government.

    1. Unpossible!

    2. The coming FDA rule requiring vape products to obtain a tobacco license for each flavor (at $1million a pop) will keep tobacco companies alive, since estimates predict 99% of products will disappear.

      Once vaping is controlled by the likes of Phillip Morris, those groups will gain traction because EVUL TOBACCO KKKORPORASHUNS!

      It would be a brilliant plan, though I doubt that they posses the competency to formulate and execute it intentionally.

  5. I feel like I’m missing something. If regular cigarette use and e-cigarette use are both declining, how does it follow that e-cigarette use leads to less cigarette use?

    1. Anecdotally, i have heard that e-cigs are helpful for weaning off of nicotine altogether.

      1. I work with a guy that brings his e-cig to work and uses that throughout the work day then smokes real cigarettes on the weekends.

        1. I don’t get that. To each their own, but after a couple days of vaping the thought of a cigarette made my stomach turn. It’s been almost two years now and I have no temptation to smoke thanks to those evil vape manufacturers and their dangerous products /sarc

    2. There’s a few academic studies examining states which did and did not ban vaping by minors. They have all found that the states that banned minors vaping saw an increase (or slower decrease) in minors smoking regular cigarettes compared to states that didn’t.

      The substitution effect appears to exceed any gateway effect.

        1. Thanks for the link.
          “Although one would not realize this from reading the surgeon general’s report, there are now several studies that look at the effect of restricting teen access to vaping products showing that such measures increase teen smoking (including among pregnant women). I’ll say that again: Reducing youth access to e-cigarettes appears to increase youth smoking rates.”
          Well duh.

      1. Illegality creates street-cred boosting rebel points for vaping. Great incentive for teens to vape whose chief value is appearing to be cool

  6. Somebody explain to me why we take surveys which ask people if they do illegal things seriously?

    1. Because the results are always wrong and made to order for the agenda

  7. As always, putting stock in self-reporting surveys is laughable. People, in general, are not honest with themselves about almost everything in life and regardless of anonymity, how can the results be trusted without a defined correlation between behavior and social stigma. It is easy to imagine that the continuing social pressure against smoking pushes a significant portion of the respondents to falsely say no, when they think their “cheating” was minor.

    Nicotine use is incredible easy to quantify with a simple blood test. Life insurance companies do it routinely. Where are the studies with hard data?

    1. Fair enough criticism, but such studies also agree, as do the state by state comparisons and trends over time (as well as studies based on sales). The studies comparing states that have and have not banned vaping sales to minors are particularly persuasive.

      At this point it contradicts all available scientific evidence to think that vaping as a gateway is larger in magnitude than vaping as substitution. That won’t stop people like the Surgeon General from believing what they want regardless.

      1. I think the concerns around vaping are less about short and mid-term adolescent usage, but rather more about reversing the longterm trend in stigmatizing nicotine usage. What happens in 5 to 10 years if vaping become socially accepted among adolescents? That’s the concern.

        We can certainly argue about the hazards or lack of for nicotine, but if one is of the belief that nicotine usage is harmful, then vaping is bad. the “gateway” argument is kinda silly…and always has been….but it is an easy to understand lever to push social stigma.

        The pro-vaping argument (or fuck you statist argument) needs to focus on the safety of nicotine relative to THC or alcohol. Win that argument and everything else goes away.

    2. They prefer to use CO tests it gets by most folks except those who understand it’s the secret way to see if your smoking without a lawsuit for invasion of privacy

    3. Nicotine is found in many common foods that most people eat on a regular basis. It’s also easily purchased in gum, lozenges, patches and vaping fluids. My understanding is that a majority of the population will test positive for nicotine. What exactly would a positive nicotine test reveal to an insurance company considering the fact that nicotine is available in many forms other than inhaling burnt tobacco?

  8. “And you know what that leads to! Drinking beer!”

  9. Who paid for this fluff piece even the government knows their smoking polls are only about 40% accurate at any given time simply because everyone lies about usage or consumption!

    If your a kid smoking are you going to rat yourself out even anonymously of course you won’t.

    Ecigs are a fad item vaping shops are closing down everywhere across the country and yet somehow they keep pedaling harm as some sort of proven fact which it has never been proven that smokingvis harmfull by any end point study anywhere.

    Mr sullen knows this too!

    1. Fuck off, slaver.

      1. Back at ya Nazi

    2. Sentences. Can you write them?

  10. Normally, Teens vape without nicotine, but it is still illegal.

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