Thursday, July 18, 2019

As Young Adult Smoking Evaporates, “Teen Vaping Epidemic” Appears Overblown

Federal officials have portrayed teen vaping as a pending disaster, creating a new generation of nicotine addicts heading for lifetimes of smoking and disease, culminating in early deaths.  The scenario is primarily based on a distorted and exaggerated interpretation of data in the National Youth Tobacco Survey. 

One way to judge the validity of these teen vaping claims is to look at what’s happening among young adults 18-24 years old.  If the government claims are accurate, we should see the disaster starting to unfold in this group.

The chart at left, based on the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, shows the prevalence of current smoking and vaping among young adults from 2014 to 2018.  Exclusive smoking is in red, dual use is in pink, and vaping is in green (with former smokers in lighter green). 

The chart’s main message is seen in the sharp decline of red-pink.  Exclusive smoking prevalence dropped in half, from 13.3% to 6.1%, as did dual use.  Vaping increased, but only from 1.7% to 5.9%.  In fact, all use went from 18.3% in 2014, all the way down to 10.1% in 2018 – an impressive decline.  The clear takeaway is that smoking is evaporating among young Americans.

Some in Congress are intent on addressing the so-called crisis, as seen by Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Donna Shalala’s (D-FL) June 20 call for co-sponsors for H.R. 2339, the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019.  In reality, the “epidemic” is already in reverse.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

With the National Health Interview Survey, Never Smokers May Have Smoked

Last week I revealed that, based on the 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), there were about 8.07 million American adult vapers, up from 6.9 million in 2017.  I noted that there were 1.71 million vapers who were never smokers, which is also a substantial increase from the prior year – and potentially troubling.  Let’s take a closer look.

First, it’s important to understand how the NHIS defines never smokers.  They are not necessarily cigarette virgins; they just never smoked 100 cigarettes in their life, which is the cutoff for ever smokers. 

The NHIS never smoker definition includes those who smoked up to five packs.  In contrast, the FDA-funded Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) survey asks more detailed questions that allow us to distinguish between people who truly never smoked from those who smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes.  We called the latter group triers in our comprehensive study of e-cigarette users published in Nicotine & Tobacco ResearchWe documented that almost all so-called never smokers were, in fact, current or former cigarette triers.

Further examination of the 2018 NHIS reveals that about three-quarters of the so-called never smoking vapers (1.31 million) used the products some days; the rest were daily users.  About 70% were 18-24 years old, and 20% were age 25-34 years.  Thirty-one percent had smoked a cigar, 3.5% had used smokeless tobacco, and 12% had used both products.  Forty-one percent had at least one episode of binge drinking in the month prior to the survey (that is, 5+ drinks for men, and 4+ for women). 

In summary, many current vapers who never smoked in the 2018 NHIS were young, had used other tobacco products, probably had smoked cigarettes and consumed alcohol.  As I have noted previously, these characteristics refute the claim that vaping is attracting tobacco virgins and creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

CDC Data: Vaping Increased in 2018, Particularly Among Former Smokers

Before 2018 even ended (here), federal officials were obsessed with that year’s “teen vaping epidemic,” based on a distorted interpretation of data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey (here).  But what about adult smoking and vaping in 2018?  Our government has had the 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data for months, but there has been no public release or discussion.  In all likelihood, the results don’t fit the government’s vision for a tobacco-free society. 

There were about 8.07 million American adult vapers in 2018, up from 6.9 million the year before, according to just-released 2018 NHIS data.  That’s the first increase since the CDC started tracking e-cigarette use in 2014.    

Thirty eight percent of current vapers – over 3 million -- were  were former smokers, also the highest number in five years.

Note that there were 1.71 million vapers in 2018 who were never smokers, and for the second year in a row, over two-thirds were 18-24 years old.  Importantly, this establishes the fact that increased rates of high school vaping (here) are resulting in lower prevalence of smoking among young adults.  In fact, the prevalence of current smoking was 7.8% in this group, which is way down compared to historical levels.  The vaping rate was almost the same (7.6%, with 1.7% currently using both products). 

Tobacco and nicotine prohibitionists in government and elsewhere continue to portray vaping as dangerous and evil.  Despite this, more Americans are moving from cigarettes to this vastly safer smoke-free nicotine delivery system.