Thursday, August 30, 2018

Slight Teen Vaping Increase and A Continued Smoking Decline in 2017

Despite the rhetoric, there is no “Juul epidemic” among high school students.  

The purported epidemic has been widely cited in the media.  Just last week, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (here) asserted that “use of these products is rampant among young people.”  The authors based their claim on “Media stories about Juul … [that] highlight anecdotal reports from students, parents, teachers, and school superintendents.”  This falls far short of normal journal standards.  (The NEJM commentary also included the confounding contentions that “Pod mods are easy to conceal from authority figures” and “Juul vaporizers measure 93.98 cm,” or an astounding 37 inches.)

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matt Myers has been a cheerleader for the mythical epidemic: “Everyone was asleep at the switch.  And by the time we woke up, we had an epidemic on our hands.  I've never seen a tobacco-related product spread across this country as fast among young people as this product.” (here)    

In fact, no one else has seen it.  Claims of a Juul epidemic are baseless.  Government data show that while e-cigarette experimentation increased among American high school students from 2011 to 2015, the year Juul was introduced, vaping stabilized in 2015 and smoking rates continued to drop. 

In 2017, 1.15 million (7.7%) American high school students were current (past 30 days) e-cigarette users, 556,000 (3.7%) smoked, and 632,000 (4.2%) used both products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS).

Comparing those numbers to 2016 (here), smoking and dual use declined marginally, by about 0.2 percentage point, while vaping increased by 0.5 point. 

While Juul sales may have surged, neither they nor any other e-cigarette brand produced a youth vaping epidemic.

*The apparent spike in e-cigarette use increased among high school students from 2013 to 2014 was partially due to what researchers term an artifact, related to a change in the survey design.  Questions about e-cigarette use were bundled with those for “other” tobacco products until 2014, when they appeared in a separate section, after cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

FDA Tobacco Center Exaggerates Number of Youth Tobacco Users

The FDA Center for Tobacco Products published an inaccurate graphic in June (the “Most Used Tobacco Products in 2017” Venn diagram here) and tweeted it on August 8 (here), asserting that 2.1 million U.S. middle and high school students in 2017 were current (past 30-days) users of e-cigarettes, 1.4 million were current cigarette smokers, and 1.3 million were current cigar smokers. The graphic, which mischaracterized data from the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey, would lead most to believe that nearly 5 million youth used the three products. That conclusion would be grossly off the mark.

In fact, NYTS data indicate there were only about 3.3 million current users of these three products, with a 40% overlap. (This is not surprising, as research shows that use of one tobacco product is associated with use of others here, here and here.)

The next chart breaks out exclusive and multiple users of e-cigarettes, cigarettes and cigars, based on my analysis of the 2017 NYTS data. 

Over 50% (1,125,000) of the 2.1 million e-cigarette users didn’t smoke at all, 22% smoked both cigarettes and cigars (red font), 15% smoked cigarettes, and 12% smoked cigars (yellow font).  These distinctions are important, as they are associated with different levels of e-cigarette use, shown in the following chart. 

A large majority (74%) of exclusive vapers used e-cigarettes infrequently (1-5 days in the past month); only 12% reported frequent use (20-30 days).  Vapers who smoked cigarettes or cigars were much more likely to be frequent e-cigarette users (20-21%); frequent use was 38% for users of all three products.  

Using a misleading graphic, the FDA exaggerates the number of teens who use tobacco.