The anti-tobacco movement continues to ignore evidence that millions worldwide have switched from smoke to vapor. Witness today’s press release (here) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “There is no conclusive scientific evidence that e-cigarettes promote successful long-term quitting.” Yet in the absence of proof, extremists insist that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking for teenagers. A new CDC report adds fuel to that gateway fire in the nation’s media.
The report (available here) uses information from the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Surveys (NYTS). In 2012, 2.8% of high school students used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, compared with 1.5% of students in 2011. Over 80% of e-cigarette users also had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days.
There is no information in the CDC report or in the NYTS relating to gateway. The NYTS asks teenagers at what age they first smoked a cigarette. However, since the teens were not asked at what age they first used e-cigarettes, gateway analysis is impossible. Still, that didn’t stop CDC Director Tom Frieden from speculating: “Many teens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”
The report’s findings are hardly surprising. The market for e-cigarettes is rapidly expanding, and youths who smoke cigarettes will also experiment with vapor products. Yet federal officials’ headline-ready comments put the findings in apocalyptic terms. Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office of Smoking and Health, said, “These dramatic increases suggest that developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e-cigarettes among youth is critical.”
The report is an unabashed pitch for FDA e-cigarette regulation, which is likely coming in October. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, also exaggerated the findings to justify FDA action: “These data show a dramatic rise in usage of e-cigarettes by youth, and this is cause for great concern as we don’t yet understand the long-term effects of these novel tobacco products…These findings reinforce why the FDA intends to expand its authority
over all tobacco products and establish a comprehensive and appropriate regulatory framework to reduce disease and death from tobacco use.”
Zeller, a respected authority on tobacco use, knows that cigarettes cause 99% of “disease and death from tobacco use.” Here, he deliberately conflates the risks of smoke-free and combustible tobacco products in the context of teenage use.
Federal authorities should restrict youth access to all tobacco products, but it is unacceptable for them to characterize e-cigarettes as gateway products when they are, in fact, helping to eliminate the smoking plague.