Wednesday, February 16, 2022

CDC Exploited the 2021 Teen Vaping Survey, But Still Withholds Raw Data from Independent Researchers


For years, I have objected that federal agencies selectively release information from their national surveys months or years before making the data available to all external researchers (here, here, here, here and here).  This practice guarantees that government officials control the narrative about behaviors that they deplore.  The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration have perfected this practice, perpetuating the myth of a teen vaping “epidemic” by releasing selected narrative-reinforcing data points from the annual National Youth Tobacco Survey long before providing outsiders with the raw data. 

Interestingly, while the CDC quietly acknowledged that the so-called epidemic had subsided in 2020, and that teen vaping rates plummeted in 2021 (here), the agency’s PR machine continued to generate sensational storylines:

“E-Cigarette Use in Teens Prevalent During COVID-19 Pandemic” (here)

“E-cigarette use among youth remains a serious public health issue during the COVID-19 pandemic” (here)

“CDC, FDA data find 2 million current teen e-cigarette users” (here)

Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine, said this about the government response to 2021 NYTS data: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducts the survey, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates ‘electronic nicotine delivery systems,’ both welcomed this evidence that the ‘epidemic’ of underage vaping is abating. Just kidding.”  In fact, Sullum accused the agencies of ignoring the decline in underage vaping precisely because it weakens the case for government action.

The CDC’s timing of data dumps is telling. Tobacco research and policy experts were not only impressed by the teen vaping decrease in 2020, but also by the speed in which the CDC released that year’s NYTS data.  The agency published its report on teen vaping on December 18 (here), and released underlying data on December 21 (here). 

The 2021 NYTS is being handled differently. The CDC published its corresponding report on October 1, but over four months later, the data is still under wraps.  It’s hard to say if the delay is related to the sharp decrease in teen vaping last year, but it is clear that the delay allows the crisis narrative to persist. That is unacceptable.



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