Teen smoking declined to record-low levels in 2016, according to the latest University of Michigan annual Monitoring the Future Study, which examines youth tobacco, alcohol and drug use (data tables here). The figure at left shows the percentage of high school seniors using alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the past 30 days over the period 1990-2016.
Cigarette smoking among high school seniors plummeted from 19.2% in 2010 to 10.5% this year. That is, the smoking rate was cut almost in half after e-cigarettes became readily available. E-cigarette use also dropped over the past two years.
Days ago, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a report asserting that e-cigarette use among youth is “a major public health concern.” The report recycles dire warnings about vaping that have been issued by FDA tobacco director Mitch Zeller and CDC director Tom Frieden, despite the lack of evidence of significant health risks associated with e-cigarettes.
The report is ostensibly a full review of scientific literature relevant to e-cigarettes and smoking among youth. But as Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler pointed out in the Washington Post (here), “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…Despite their relevance, these studies are completely ignored by the surgeon general. They’re not even listed in the report’s references.”
Those studies were discussed in this blog (here and here). Their omission in the Surgeon General’s report is inexcusable.
Why does the government focus on youth as it wars against e-cigarettes? These products are responsible for virtually no health problems and certainly no deaths among youth and young adults. In contrast, the MTF survey documents that alcohol is by far youth’s drug of choice. In 2016, one-third of high school seniors had an alcoholic drink in the past 30 days, and one in five had been drunk, despite laws against underage sales and consumption.
Young Americans die from alcohol consumption and abuse. From 2007 to 2014, CDC data (here) shows that accidental alcohol poisoning killed 930 people age 15-24 years. And alcohol also contributes to traffic fatalities. With the exception of the elderly, this age group (15-24 years) suffers the highest death rates due to auto accidents. Comprising just 14% of the U.S. population, this young cohort accounts for 25% of auto deaths (1,544 in 2014).
The Surgeon General’s report is the latest in a series of misleading and unsupported tobacco diatribes (here and here). The public would be better served if government committed its limited resources based on the relative impact of a substance on children’s health. Tobacco products should not be ignored, but Dr. Murthy’s report wrongly damns a safer and satisfying product that is currently helping 2.5 million former smokers (here) become or remain smoke-free.