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As Vaping Exploded Among Teenagers, Smoking Fell by Half

Defying its own data, the CDC continues to obscure the enormous harm-reducing potential of e-cigarettes.

Survey data published last week cast further doubt on warnings that e-cigarettes are a gateway to the real thing for teenagers. Between 2011 and 2016, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), the share of high school students who reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month fell from almost 16 percent to 8 percent, even as past-month use of e-cigarettes rose dramatically.

The incidence of past-month cigarette smoking among high school students in the NYTS, which is conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fell from 9.3 percent to 8 percent last year, continuing a downward trend that began in the late 1990s. The incidence of past-month vaping, which rose steadily from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015, also fell last year, to 11 percent. From 2011 to 2016, in other words, e-cigarette use more than septupled, while cigarette smoking was cut in half.

National Youth Tobacco SurveyNational Youth Tobacco Survey

"The rate of decline in youth smoking is unprecedented," writes Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel on his tobacco policy blog. "This despite the rapid rise in e-cigarette experimentation. These data are simply not consistent with the hypothesis that vaping is going to re-normalize smoking and that e-cigarettes are a gateway to youth smoking."

In theory, it is possible that adolescent smoking would have declined even faster if e-cigarettes had never been introduced. But on the face of it, these trends do not look like evidence that vaping entices teenagers who otherwise never would have tried tobacco into a nicotine habit that ultimately leads to smoking. Making that scenario even more unlikely, most nonsmoking teenagers who vape use nicotine-free e-liquids, and very few of them vape often enough to get hooked on nicotine in any case.

If anything, it looks like e-cigarettes have taken the place of the conventional kind for at least some teenagers who otherwise would be smoking. That is unambiguously an improvement from a public health perspective, since smoking is far more dangerous than vaping. Yet the CDC continues to talk as if there is little or no difference between smoking and vaping as far as health hazards go.

"Current use of any tobacco product did not change significantly during 2011–2016 among high or middle school students," says the article on the latest NYTS data in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That is true only if you classify e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco, as tobacco products, which they aren't. The report's authors concede that "combustible tobacco product use declined" during this period but obscure the significance of that development. "Use of tobacco products in any form is unsafe," they say, ignoring the enormous difference between combustible cigarettes and alternatives such as e-cigarettes, which are something like 95 percent safer.

By exaggerating the threat posed by adolescent experimentation with vaping (and experimentation is all it typically amounts to), the CDC hopes to justify policies that will make e-cigarettes less accessible and less appealing to adult smokers. "Sustained efforts to implement proven tobacco control policies and strategies are critical to preventing youth use of all tobacco products," say the authors of the NYTS report, citing the Food and Drug Administration's regulation of e-cigarettes as an example. But the FDA's rules threaten to cripple an industry that could help millions of smokers prolong their lives by switching to a far less hazardous source of nicotine. The CDC therefore is endangering public health when it rationalizes those regulations as sensible safeguards against adolescent vaping.

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  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "the share of high school students who reported smoking cigarettes in the previous month fell from almost 16 percent to 8 percent"

    Considering that smoking is illegal for most teenagers, and the strong disapproval society focuses against smokers, why do we treat surveys such as this as if they are in any sense reliable?

  • Zeb||

    I would think that the change in results is at least somewhat meaningful, even if the absolute numbers aren't.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I have sporadic contact with teens and tweens who talk to me, and my impression is that the Progressive nannyism and tendency to lie to people "for their own good" as applied to teenagers has become fairly blatant since the turn of the century. IF that is the case, I have to wonder whether what is dropping is not teen smoking but teen willingness to trust surveys that claim that all answers will be confidential.

  • Zeb||

    That seems like a reasonable question. Maybe the rates of denying smoking have gone up. I generally told the truth to surveys like that as a teen, but that's just me. And kids probably have more reason now to worry about busybodies getting involved in their business.

    I still think it probably does reflect a real trend. I'd expect smoking to decrease among teens as it does among the general population. Especially given how expensive it's gotten.

  • BYODB||

    I lie all on surveys, regardless of what they are for or who is asking me to take them. I do this because statistics are a vehicle for lying, so why should I be the only one telling the truth in one?

  • BYODB||

    And if I'm being honest, as a teen, I lied on even more survey's than I do now. The why is a simple one: I have never trusted anything where I need to be triple assured that the results are confidential.

    And, sure enough, it turns out that my responses on a smoking survey will be used to determine if I do or do not have access to cigarettes since if I answer 'yes' the government is more likely to lock down cigarette availability even more. It's in my best interests to lie and say I don't smoke, so that I'll be able to continue getting cigarettes to smoke.

    This has always seemed so obvious to me that I considered it clear evidence that these surveys are idiotic. At one point is a person the most rebellious against 'the man'? The exact age that these survey's are measuring. Ludicrous.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Surely you're not implying that teenagers would lie on a government survey? /sarc

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If everyone quit smoking, the government would then miss on huge product liability settlements and outrageous sin taxes.

  • Rhywun||

    Sticking it to the government almost makes it sound worth quitting.

  • Vladilyich||

    You have definitely hit the truism behind the entire "debate". Neither the U.S. government nor the Canadian government have figured out yet how to tax the e-fluid.

    I smoked cigarettes for 59 years and tried everything to quit. I have NOT had a combustible cigarette for over two years now. I'm still addicted to nicotine, but nicotine is not what causes cancer or kills you, it's the 250 other chemicals and poisons (carbon monoxide, ammonia, "tars"...) that rot your lungs and cause abnormal cell growth.

    It's also one heck of a lot cheaper to "vape" than to buy cigarettes. I live in Ontario, Canada, where the price of a pack makes New York State look cheap in comparison (avg. $14.00CAD/pack). I happen to make my own fluid (recipe follows). Commercially, straight (unflavoured) fluid costs $20.00CAD/eighth cup (eqv. 1 carton of cigarettes). I make my own for around $5.00CAD. The recipe is very simple and the ingredients can be bought at any reputable chemical supply house.

    Unflavoured fluid:

    59 ml USP grade Propylene Glycol (NOT ethylene glycol which is deadly poison)
    39 ml USP grade Glycerine
    2 ml USP grade Nicotinic Acid

    This makes 100 ml (1/3 cup) of 2% nicotine (strong, but safe) e-fluid. Food grade glycerine and propylene glycol may also be used, but USP (United States Pharmaceutical) grade is the most pure.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Nicotine use makes some people happy and feel good for a little while. We can't have that. /Puritanical assholes

  • NoVaNick||

    Well, they seem to have no problem with nicotine so long as it is in the form of gum or patches.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Nicotine suppositories also acceptable. I hear they're developing a new delivery mechanism where you jam a nicotine coated glass shard under your eyelid.

  • Rhywun||

    Yes, because it's about optics above all else.

  • NoVaNick||

    As tobacco tax revenue continues to decline as more smokers and vapers turn to the black market, look for nicotine to become classified by the DEA, since it will be claimed that the tax revenue it is bringing in does not cover the cost of the health effects-such is the twisted logic of these "progressive" prohibitionists.

    How will they make up for the lost revenue? Taxes on sugary drinks and junk food which we are already seeing with the former, probably followed by guns and ammo, then cars and gasoline-all things the proggy urban elites disapprove of. One thing they will never increase taxes on is alcohol because these same people like it too much.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Summary: Invest in Starbucks and appletinis.

  • ||

    Tobacco, whiskey, and guns, or GTFO and take your cultural libertarianism with you!

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I keep wondering when the LGBT (or whatever the accepted acronym is this morning) community will realize that a government that is closely concerned about what you smoke or drink - on the grounds that it adversely affects your health - is sooner or later going to get interested in any sexual impulses you might have that are less than healthy.

    We really, REALLY need to start telling the Progressive buttinskies "fuck off, fuck directly off, do not pass 'go', do not collect more sin taxes".

  • Zeb||

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDdnI87xLVY

    Though I have my doubts about whether the left will really go there in the US. A lot of their branding depends on being perceived as the "cool people" to younger voters and being the team of sexual liberation is a big part of that. And a war on sex isn't going to help with that. Of course, Republicans don't offer a great alternative.

  • ||

    Though I have my doubts about whether the left will really go there in the US.

    At some point the alcohol-feminism-sex conflict triangle will have to be resolved and where you think the GOP stands with regard to that is, whether lead by a pussy-grabber-in-chief or not, largely a matter of opinion.

  • Zeb||

    I'm talking mostly about cultural positioning and perceptions. The GOP has largely stuck with the conservative "family values" sort of position in how they present themselves. Whatever the actual policy results end up being, the broad cultural perception is there.

  • NoVaNick||

    . A lot of their branding depends on being perceived as the "cool people" to younger voters

    Hence their support for 420 legalization-until the tobacco companies start selling 20-packs of joints.

    sexual liberation is a big part of that

    This runs head-on into the current campus date rape hysteria, though. Which is likely one of the reasons why youngsters aren't having nearly as much sex as they were 20-30 years ago. They are also drinking and smoking (as this story mentions) much less too. There is no way democrats can claim to be the sex, drugs, and rock and roll party.

  • Zeb||

    And yet they do. I'm not saying it makes tons of sense, but it's how they do it. There are reasons why younger people are so heavily slanted leftward, and it's more cultural than anything to do with actual ideology.

    It's also important to remember that all left wing politics are not directed from some central committee. There are lots of people with differing beliefs and motivations about all of this stuff. The things you mention are real and often troubling.
    The Democratic party has been lousy about legalization. But it's still the left that is driving it. People all over the political spectrum are much to prone to seeing the "other side" as some monolithic bloc.

  • pan fried wylie||

    There are reasons why younger people are so heavily slanted leftward, and it's more cultural than anything to do with actual ideology.

    What's youthful ignorance, chopped liver?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    If the Progressive Left came to the conclusion that supporting cannibalism would win them support, they would be arguing that it was a Constitutionally Protected Right.

  • Vladilyich||

    They have already in Canada. In the U.S. I used to buy a half-gallon of vodka for around $13USD. In Ontario, a pint sells for $13CAD.

  • Kivlor||

    If we take these results seriously (and I agree with a lot of the commenters that we probably can't trust the kids self-reporting on the survey) then it would appear that the anti-vapers have a point: more kids are now using vaping and cigarettes than were previously just using cigarettes. And vaping, although drastically less bad than smoking, still is not good.

    What is interesting, and quite heartening though, is that although the total number of kids using either products had risen from 17.3% (2011) to a whopping 25.3% (2015), we are now seeing a drastic reduction, with the number returning to 17.3% in a single year. If drops continue, the anti-vapers will have very little to stand on...

  • Kivlor||

    What I meant wasn't that more are using, but that up until 2016, we were seeing an overall increase, despite the decrease in smoking.

  • Zeb||

    Seems like vaping had it's little peak of trendiness and maybe that's passed. Hard to say at this point, but seems likely.

  • Curt||

    Yup. They put down their vapes and picked up fidget spinners. In a couple of years, they'll transition to pet rocks, slap bracelets, pokemon, or some other moronic trend.

    But, in the end, it looks like this may be a situation where a bunch of teenagers f'ed around with vapes as a cool trend at the same time their rebellious instincts told them to experiment with smoking. If, as a result, they didn't actually try smoking, didn't get hooked, and the smoking line on the graph continues downward... fucking awesome!

    With adults, it's not as easy, but I'm willing to bet that the number of adults who transitioned from nothing-to-vaping-to-smoking is probably lower than the number who went from smoking-to-vaping or smoking-to-vaping-to-nothing. Again, that's a huge win.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    that's a huge win.

    Not only is it a huge win, but it's a huge win that the government fought tooth and nail against.

  • Kivlor||

    It's going to be really interesting to see if this was just a fad, and that's why it took a sudden plummet. If so, can we expect to see a steady return to old smoking patterns in kids?

  • ||

    And vaping, although drastically less bad than smoking, still is not good.

    Either you're just making a bad moral argument or you're making a bad moral argument based on shitty science and/or a lack of facts.

    Vaping is decidedly safer than smoking and far likely to be safer than any of the good social engineering programs science has knowingly foisted on us.

    Is vaping worse not better than refined sugar and bacon? Fuck off slaver!

  • Kivlor||

    You know, it is possible to credit those you are opposed to with being correct on some things, and wrong on others. In this case, it appears that up until last year, the anti-vapers were right about increasing usage among kids. And it's obviously not good for kids. And as I pointed out, the trend is now a drastic drop in total usage, back to when vaping first hit the market, which is bad news for the anti-vaping people if this trend continues at all. It may be that the anti-vapers were right in the short-run, but long-run they were horribly wrong, and that this has reduced nicotene addiction in kids overall.

    Acknowledging this doesn't necessitate law. Or if it does to you, then perhaps you should consider your own ethos...

  • pan fried wylie||

    Since vaping nicotine-free liquid counts the same as vaping nicotine I'm going to go with "bad moral argument based on shitty science".

    Unless we're talking about a new study I haven't heard about that examines the effects of chronic glycol/glycerine inhalation, where ignoring that distinction might be acceptable.

  • BYODB||

    This is absolutely correct. Nicotine by itself is essentially a slightly different form of Caffeine (and yes, it is more addictive) which is not only legal but something that you can give to a child without being arrested. Go figure.

    You nanny types should probably stay away from chemistry.

    What people are saying is that a self inflicted chemical dependence is immoral. They aren't saying it's super bad for you, realistically, because it isn't that bad for you in the grand scheme of things that are legal. Eating a whole plate of bacon every day for 50 years is totally legal; why?

    At this point, if you're arguing that nicotine is bad, you should acknowledge that any unhealthy activity should be regulated and taxed by the government. And yes, that includes your espresso full of addictive chemicals that no child should have to suffer through.

  • Vladilyich||

    Espresso actually has a lower caffeine content than standard ground coffee. Heat destroys caffeine. It only tastes "stronger". (Source: corporate handout to baristas at Starbucks, 2008).

  • JuanQPublic||

    Smoking is a more addictive route of administration than vaping. It's a far more efficient nicotine delivery system. Along with ignoring this, the anti-smoking lobby (that opposes e-cigs at all costs) ignores that e-cigs also have far, far less harmful compounds than cigarette smoke. It's actually not even close. So what they do is list all of the scary things about e-cigs in a vacuum, out of context with reality. An example is saying that e-cigs "reduce airway function", but if you look at it in context, lots of things do that, like being around idling cars on a city street pumping out exhaust.

    Context is everything. They've completely removed the data from its proper context.

  • BYODB||

    It doesn't matter which one is more 'efficient' because the end user is going to mix to achieve the same result with both. I.E. using either more vape liquid or a higher nicotine concentration in their liquid vs. smoking an extra cigarette. The user will seek the same level of nicotine regardless of the devices efficiency.

  • m.EK||

    How long are we going to be surprised by the CDC or FDA and their collusion to big business or the NWO type of decisions?
    Just to be clear, exchanging one addicting habit for another speaks more to the individual character and training than for the "benefits" of the "other" habit.
    Thinking for one self is sort of fundamental to liberty.

  • MichaelL||

    Have I failed to see the scientific studies that show vaping as detrimental to health, as cigarettes are? My teen step-son has picked it up. I would rather see him do that than smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol! . They would rather practice medicine on beliefs from old wive's tales, and emotional responses. Is it that so many doctors fail to see science as important to health?! If polypropylene glycol is so bad for us, why has it become the most recommended laxative? Vaping it causes little change in the chemical structure of the molecule. It is just so damned much better than smoking!

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