Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Vaping Is a Gateway to Quitting

A new study that links e-cigarettes to smoking has things backward.

Survey data indicate that millions of Americans have used electronic cigarettes to quit smoking, thereby dramatically reducing the health risks they face. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is unimpressed.

"The plural of anecdote is not data," Frieden recently told The New York Times. But when it comes to the dangers that vaping poses, he abandons his scientific stance, claiming without evidence that "many kids are starting out with e-cigarettes and then going on to smoke conventional cigarettes."

No doubt Frieden and other e-cigarette alarmists will latch onto a new study that supposedly shows "Flavored E-Cigarettes May Entice Teens to Smoke," as one of the predictable headlines put it. But that is not what the study, reported this week in the journal Pediatrics, actually shows.

Looking at data from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, biostatistician Hongying Dai and economist Jianqiang Hao found that nonsmokers who had used an e-cigarette in the previous month were less likely than other nonsmokers to rule out trying tobacco cigarettes in the future. That is not terribly surprising, since just 3 percent of teenagers who had never smoked reported past-month e-cigarette use, a small minority that is apt to differ from the remaining 97 percent in traits, such as rebelliousness, risk aversion, and sensation seeking, that might affect the propensity to experiment with smoking.

Correlation is not causation. The fact that teenagers who vape are less inclined to say they will never smoke does not mean the experience of vaping made them that way. As Dai and Hao note, "we were unable to establish causal inferences" because "the data are cross-sectional."

The idea that vaping promotes smoking seems implausible in light of the fact that smoking has fallen to record lows among teenagers even as experimentation with vaping has risen dramatically. Furthermore, teenagers who vape typically use nicotine-free e-liquids, and nonsmokers rarely vape often enough to develop a nicotine habit.

According to the Monitoring the Future Study, nearly two-thirds of teenagers who have tried vaping consumed "just flavoring" the last time they did it. In the same survey, less than 1 percent of never-smokers had vaped on 20 or more days in the previous month.

Dai and Hao seem to view flavored e-liquids, whether or not they contain nicotine, as a menace to the youth of America. "Flavored e-cigarette use is associated with increased risks of smoking among youth," they conclude. "Comprehensive tobacco control and prevention strategies that address flavored e-cigarette products are critically needed to reduce tobacco use among youth."

It is pretty clear what "address[ing] flavored e-cigarette products" means to Dai and Ho, who repeatedly note that the Food and Drug Administration does not plan to ban flavors as part of its otherwise onerous e-cigarette regulations. They worry that "widespread availability of flavored e-cigarettes will increase the use of e-cigarette products by youth" and that "the normalization of e-cigarette use among youth could also lead to e-cigarettes becoming a gateway for future smoking, marking a setback in the decades-long antismoking battle."

While there is little reason to think anything like that is happening, banning flavored e-liquids would make vaping less attractive to smokers, thereby discouraging them from making a switch that could save their lives. Contrary to the claims of politicians and activists who insist that candy and fruit flavors could not possibly appeal to anyone older than 17, adults who switch to vaping overwhelmingly prefer supposedly kid-friendly e-liquids.

In a 2014 survey by E-Cigarette Forum, three-quarters of adult vapers who had quit smoking or cut back said they favored flavors other than tobacco. A 2013 study likewise found that flavor variety is important for smokers who switch to vaping.

Dai and Ho are dismayed that the vaping market features "a large number of different flavors that might appeal to youth." But eliminating that variety would represent just the sort of setback they imagine it would prevent.

© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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.

  • Rockabilly||

    The prog will never be satisfied until our entire being is monitored by central committee

  • Kaline||

    Vaping was the one thing that helped me quit smoking. I tried Chantix and Wellbutrin a couple of times each, but e-cigs is what ultimately did it. It's been four years now and not a puff of anything.

  • DaveSs||

    Likewise.

    Grabbed a vape and not once touched the real thing again.

    And with a self mix juice, the nic level is almost down to 0.

  • ||

    I hate that fucking term. It's right up there with 'For the Children'. PIZZ.THE.FUCK.OFF.

  • ||

    "The plural of anecdote is not data," Frieden recently told The New York Times.

    I'm pretty sure Thomas Frieden should take a bag of dicks up the ass in a clinically-controlled environment before making uninformed anecdotal claims regarding his homosexuality. We, the public, can't merely rely on his anecdotes.

  • pan fried wylie||

    I thought bagofdicks was supposed to be administered orally.

  • ||

    I'm trying to help the guy make an objective decision here, not turn him into an addict.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    Tommy Toothsucker be going bye-bye quite soon.

  • NoVaNick||

    Former smoker here who switched completely to e-cigs about 4 years ago. I was not actually planning to quit, but ended up not liking the taste or smell of cigarettes anymore. E-cigs certainly helped but what really helped control the cravings was Swedish snus-great stuff! Of course, turds like Frieden don't care unless I quit their "approved" way.

    I wonder what will happen to these bozos at the CDC and FDA in a Trump admisinstration? Its not like he is promising to shrink the government and probably doesn't care enough one way or the other about e-cigs, so I suspect that we will have more of this BS to look forward to, although I'm sure it would get worse if Hillary had won.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    Tommy Toothsucker be going bye-bye quite soon.

  • Sofie||

    The belief that vaping is a gateway to smoking for teens is nonsense. God gave us free will so we could make our own choices. If a person wants to smoke, doesn't matter an adult or a teenager, he/she will smoke, whether you ban the practice or not. I know a lot of people who gave up smoking as soon as they started vaping. There are a lot of articles regarding this topic that you can read and understand why quitting smoking is a good idea.
    One thing I'm sure of, vaping has its other benefits, aside being a means to eliminating harmful habits. Recently studies have shown that it's a way to keep the obesity in check after the quitting process.

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    Two year vaper here, and like the comments above, I have no desire for cigarettes anymore. Gotten my nicotine level way down and it's a much better life for me.

  • Old Monkey||

    The fact vaping is safer, and has been established by NHS as a safe, and also effective as a way to quit. Many youngsters that manage somehow get vaping supplies prefer flavors without nicotine as they taste better

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online