A prominent annual study may have dented the theory that vaping is a gateway to traditional cigarette smoking for young people. The eye-opening results of the study stand in stark contrast to a recent claim by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy that e-cigarettes are encouraging the use of tobacco among America’s youth, adding more fuel to the vaping vs. smoking debate. But what do studies indicate regarding young vapers and tobacco use?
What the MTF Survey Says about Young People Smoking and Teens Vaping
Each year, the National Institute of Health conducts its Monitoring the Future survey. This study measures various teen behaviors such as cigarette smoking and compares the results with data from previous years. The MTF results for 2016 indicate a significant drop among both teens who smoke cigarettes and teens vaping electronic cigarettes or other modern vaping devices.
In 1996, according to the MTF, 22.2 percent of high school seniors indicated that they smoked cigarettes on a daily basis. In 2016, just 4.8 percent of this group reported daily tobacco use. During the same period rates among 10th grade students dropped from 18.3 percent to 1.9 percent. These numbers represent the greatest decrease in the history of the MTF for tobacco use among young people.
What is most interesting about the 2016 MTF, however, is that the rates for e-cigarette use also dropped. In 2015, 16.2 percent of high school seniors reported e-cigarette use. This year, that number was 12.4 percent. Additionally, 75.1 percent of 12th grade students reported that the e-juices used in their vaporizers contained no nicotine. E-juices sold for vaporizers are typically available in nicotine consistencies of 0, 3, 6, or 12 mg.
The numbers would appear to indicate that the advent of e-cigarettes has not encouraged tobacco use among teens. Furthermore, the numbers suggest that e-cigarette use among teens has fallen in near direct proportion to the use of traditional cigarettes.
Vaping Critics Say the Vaping Industry Targets Young Vapers
A frequent claim made by e-cigarette critics is that the vaping industry targets young vapers. According to a January 5, 2016 report by NBC News, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contend that e-cigarette companies are spending millions of dollars in advertising that is designed to appeal to young people. CDC director Dr.Tom Frieden was quoted in the report as saying that e-cigarette manufacturers are using “the same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine.”
The claims of the CDC were bolstered by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s assertion in early December that youth are turning to e-cigarettes as a substitute for traditional smoking. Murthy cited a study which claims that e-cigarette use jumped 900 percent among high school students from 2011-2015.
The MTF study, however, appears to contradict both the claims of the Surgeon General and the CDC. The survey would suggest that attempts to influence young people with e-cigarette-themed advertising, if it indeed occurs, has failed. Furthermore, nothing in the MTF survey indicates that vaping has become a gateway for tobacco use.
The Greater Implications of Vaping Among Young People
Proponents of vaping contend that the use of e-cigarettes can offer some benefit to those individuals who wish to quit smoking. This claim has been at the heart of the debate between vaping advocates and detractors. More than anything else, the numbers of the MTF survey may indicate that vaping has had an impact on how young people perceive tobacco use and its associated risks.
A decrease in the number of young people using cigarettes combined with a decrease in the number of teens vaping begs some important questions. Are young people becoming more aware that tobacco use is unhealthy? Are those young people who use e-cigarettes in favor of tobacco ultimately abandoning both?
Perhaps the most important correlation to note is that the dramatic drop among teen smokers reported by the 2016 MTF survey corresponds to a timeframe which saw the introduction of vaping devices. That may be the strongest indicator that vaping is a useful alternative to tobacco use.
More data is needed before concrete conclusions can be made, but all sides must surely agree that further studies on the efficacy of vaping as a substitute for tobacco use are merited. As more numbers like those reported by the MTF emerge, it is becoming harder for vaping critics to substantiate a position that e-cigarette use carries the same risks as the use of tobacco products.