Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Complicated Models Can’t Alter the Data: Smoking Among Youth and Young Adults Is Way Down

Smoking among high school students declined from almost 16% in 2011 to 9% in 2014 – a reduction of 43% in just three years.  That is according to data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) that I recently published (here). 

Now two researchers at the University of California San Francisco, Lauren Dutra and Stanton Glantz, torture the NYTS data to support a perceived “lack of a demonstrable acceleration in
the long-term rate of decline” in youth smoking after 2009. 

Dutra and Glantz analyzed smoking among children from 2004 to 2014.  They used a complicated model to determine the rate of decline from 2004 to 2009, then compared that to the 2011-2014 rate, when e-cigarette use was increasing among youths. 

The UCSF publicity statement on their work (here) states: “E-cigarettes …are actually attracting a new population of adolescents who might not otherwise have smoked tobacco products…”  Professor Glantz is quoted: “E-cigarettes are encouraging, not discouraging, youth to smoke and to consume nicotine, and are expanding the tobacco market.”  This resulted in headlines such as “Vaping encouraging youth to smoke” (here) and “E-cigarettes are creating a brand new generation of cigarette smokers” (here).

If Dutra-Glantz’s claims are true, we should see evidence of the “new generation” in the young adult population, particularly in current smoking rates among 18- to19-year-olds.  I used the CDC’s annual National Health Interview Survey to analyze two five-year periods: first, when e-cig use was minimal to nonexistent (2005-10), and then when e-cigs were in wide and growing use (2010-15).  I used the standard definition of current smokers: those who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and smoke every day or some days.

The accompanying chart clearly illustrates that smoking declined among 18- to 19-year-olds during the first five years.  However, from 2010 to 2015 the rate dropped by over half among 18-19 year-old males, and by nearly two-thirds among females.

One fact is crystal clear: The decline of smoking in young adults is accelerating.

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