Friday, December 21, 2018

Federal Officials Obsessed By Teen Vaping, But Ignore Teen Drinking and Toking

The newly released 2018 Monitoring the Future survey results provide further evidence of a sharp decline in cigarette smoking among high school seniors, coinciding with increased vaping.  The rate of current smoking (in the past 30 days) plummeted to 7.6% from 9.7% the year before.  Even more impressive, the rate represents a 60% drop from 2011 (18.7%), which is the year that teens started to vape (evidence here).

Current vaping (any or no drug) increased in 2018 to 27%, reflecting use of nicotine (21%), marijuana (7.5%) and/or flavors alone (13.5%).  Surgeon General Jerome Adams called the increase an “epidemic” and issued a plea for “all hands on deck.” (here). 

Oddly, federal officials continue to focus more on vaping than on use of intoxicating drugs. High school seniors still used alcohol at a far higher rate than cigarettes (30% versus 7.6%), and over twice as many (18%) reported being drunk in the past month.  Marijuana use was 22%; it’s been in this range since 1995.

To his credit, most of Dr. Adams’ media comments were evidence-based.  That wasn’t the case with the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, who said that vaping “might be paving the way for a transition to conventional cigarettes as well as other substances.” (here).  I have previously demonstrated that these gateway theories are false and based on fatally flawed research (examples here and here).   

The Surgeon General wrongly claimed that nicotine is “very and uniquely harmful” to the developing brain, and his web site asserts that vaping can impair learning and memory in those up to age 25 (here).  That claim implies that a significant percentage of the 40 million current smokers and even more former smokers, most of whom started as teens and smoked for decades, have brain damage.  There is no scientific evidence to support this allegation.

In contrast, there is unequivocal evidence linking youth football and other concussion-producing sports activities to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) (here, for example).  If the Surgeon General and others want to protect children’s brains, this would be a more productive area for their focus.

Dr. Adams’s statements were embellished by the usual tobacco prohibitionists, including Dr. Josh Sharfstein of Johns Hopkins University, who said, “There’s no more credible or influential voice on nicotine and tobacco than that of the U.S. Surgeon General.”  In fact, the current advisory is only the latest in a series of hyperbolic tobacco pronouncements by surgeons general over the past decades, including Dr. Vivek Murthy (here), Dr. Regina Benjamin (here), Dr. Boris Lushniak, Dr. Richard Carmona and Dr. Antonia Novello (here).  In 1992 Dr. Novello predicted “an oral cancer epidemic beginning two or three decades from now if the current trends in spit tobacco use continue” (here).  That epidemic was not just a fabrication, it was based on a completely false premise.     

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