Quite Smoking

Some FDA Claims About Teen Vaping Confirmed, Others Evaporate


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released the 2018 data for the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS).  My analysis confirms the FDA claim of a substantial increase in vaping among high school students.  However, I also discovered some information that challenges the FDA commissioner’s narrative (here) that this “threatens to hook an entire generation of kids into a lifetime of addiction.”

As seen in the chart at left, current (past 30 days) dual use of combustible and electronic cigarettes rose from 4.2% the year before to 5.7% in 2018.  Exclusive e-cigarette use almost doubled, from 7.6% to 15.1%.  The only good news is that exclusive cigarette use declined from 3.6% to 2.6%. 

Frequency of use is seen in the table below, which displays the percentages of the estimated 14.4 million high school students in 2018 who were currently using cigarettes and/or e-cigarettes, by number of days in the past month.  For example, 76.6% of students used neither product (bold text, upper left), an 8 point decline from the year before.  Current users of e-cigarettes are in the red-bordered boxes.  In 2017, 60% of current vapers used the products 5 or fewer days (green text) – the equivalent of trying products at a party.  But in 2018, that percentage dropped to 49%.  In contrast, in 2017 only 20% of current high school vapers used the products 20-30 days (red text), i.e frequent users, which is suggestive of dependence.  That number grew to 28% in 2018.  Slightly over half of those were not currently using cigarettes (bold red text). 


These worrisome numbers fuel the government’s dire warning that e-cigarettes are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.  However, these claims require context, which the newly available NYTS data provides.  For example, the FDA emphasized that 28% of high school vapers were frequent users in 2018.  However, only 25% of underage vapers were frequent users, compared with 41% of legal vapers.  Further analysis of frequent vapers according to their underage or legal status shows the following:
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Table 2. Lifetime Cigarette Consumption of Frequent High School E-Cigarette Users, NYTS 2018
Lifetime Cigarette Consumption Underage Legal
Not Current Smokers
Never smoked 43.1% 28.2%
1 puff to 5 cigarettes 35.7 30.3
Half to 1 pack 9.4 17.3
1-5 packs 6.4 12.6
5+ packs 5.5 11.6
All 100% 100%
Current Smokers
Never smoked 0% 2.8%
1 puff to 5 cigarettes 16.1 5.6
Half to 1 pack 19.7 25.0
1-5 packs 20.0 15.8
5+ packs 44.1 50.8
All 100% 100%


The table shows that most frequent e-cigarette users were not virgins with respect to cigarette smoking.  In the underage nonsmoking group, 57% of frequent vapers had smoked in the past.  The percentages were even higher among legal-age and current smokers.  These percentages will likely increase if cigars, smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products are included (as I explained years ago here).  These youths had already smoked, which counters Dr. Gottlieb’s assertion that “e-cigarette use…threatens to hook an entire generation of kids into a lifetime of addiction.”  Simply put, kids who use or try stuff, use or try other stuff.

I have noted previously that the FDA’s campaign to eliminate teen vaping has improperly focused on tobacco retailers (hereand here).  The following table from the 2018 NYTS confirms that the dominant sources of e-cigarettes for underage high school users are friends, family and other individuals (71%), while the primary source for legal high school vapers are retailers (64%).  Raising the legal purchase age – Tobacco 21 – remains a viable way to curb underage use. (here)

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Table 3. Source of E-Cigarettes for High School Vapers,* NYTS 2018
Underage Legal
Friend 58.0% 24.9%
Family 6.8 3.2
Other person 6.6 8.0
Vape shop 12.9 46.8
Gas, convenience store 6.6 9.7
Internet 3.9 2.0
Other store 2.3 1.4
Drug store 1.1 2.7
Grocery 0.9 0.6
Mall kiosk 0.9 0.7
All 100% 100%

* Reporting a single source (81% of all)(weighted).

I previously said that “The FDA’s Teen E-Cigarette-Addiction Epidemic Doesn’t Add Up” for 2017.  There is no question that e-cigarette use among high school students increased substantially in 2018.  However, analysis of NYTS data documents that the FDA claim that e-cigarettes from retailers are singlehandedly hooking an “entire generation of kids into a lifetime of addiction” is exaggerated and inaccurate. 





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