Annual survey indicates that vaping and marijuana use have surpassed cigarette smoking among teenagers
In another blow to the argument that vaping leads to more teens smoking, the latest Monitoring the Future report shows that cigarette smoking has dropped so much that both marijuana and vaping are now both more popular among teens. The annual survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and is conducted by the University of Michigan. The report for 2017 was published last Thursday and showed that drops in cigarette uptake are staying consistent, even in the face of the increasing popularity of vaping.
In spite of these encouraging statistics, some are still wondering if these positive trends will continue into the future, or if the popularity of vaping products will ultimately lead to a reversal of the declining smoking rates. Luckily, these fears appear to be unfounded as the decline in smoking rates has actually accelerated since the initial rise of vaping, with this year’s survey being no exception.
MTF Survey Findings
This year’s Monitoring the Future survey had 43,703 participants, scattered between 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. These students came from all types of backgrounds, and the questions were given to both public and private school students. The researchers found that 22.9% of 12th graders had used marijuana in the last 30 days, while 16.6% said they’d used an e-cigarette. Both these numbers are quite a bit higher than the reported 9.7% of seniors who said they’d smoked a cigarette in the previous month. Other findings of the report show that teenagers are being more responsible in regards to other dangerous substances as well, such as alcohol, prescription painkillers, and stimulants. All three of these stayed steady at the lowest rates recorded in over 20 years.
Dr. Wilson Compton, who is the deputy director of the institute, believes that these results are encouraging regarding the decision making of our youth. Although he stops short of giving direct praise to vaping, he does seem to agree that e-cigarettes are having a positive influence on teens who had already picked up smoking. One possible problem noted by the survey though is that some teens who are vaping do not fully understand what they are inhaling. They may believe it to be only flavoring when it may actually contain nicotine.
Changing Of The Tide
These new numbers continue the long-standing decline of smoking in America as the dangers of tobacco are better understood, and the information is more readily spread. Dr. Compton noted that in 1996 over 10% of 8th graders, and nearly a quarter of high school seniors reported smoking cigarettes every day. This year those numbers had dropped to 0.6% for 8th graders and 4.2% for seniors. No matter what way you look at it, these results are remarkably positive. Thomas Glynn, who’s a former director of cancer science at the American Cancer Society believes that these dramatically reduced rates of smoking represent “an astounding accomplishment in public health.”
If the rate of smoking has been on a steady decline for the last 20 years, the opposite is true for marijuana. Back in 1991, over 40% of high school seniors saw a “great risk” from smoking weed occasionally. In 2017, that number has dropped all the way to 14.1%. This resulted in 24% of students (in all three grades) who said they had used marijuana at some point over the last year. This year’s survey also found that around one in twenty seniors said they had vaped marijuana, which like nicotine vaping, eliminates the need for smoke altogether. Perhaps most interestingly, the MTF survey indicated that while the rate of students who believe weed to be relatively safe has increased, this has not affected the rate of students who actually try getting high. According to Ty Schepis, a professor of psychology at Texas State, “drug use tends to go hand in hand with perceptions of risk and approval.” So these results are somewhat puzzling.
Research like this is integral in proving that vaping is not leading to more smoking among teenagers. Several studies have already shown that the vast majority of teens who vape had already been smoking cigarettes, meaning that in most cases vaping is actually serving the same purpose for teens as it does for adult smokers. That is giving them an invaluable tool for getting off cigarettes for good. Unlike what some people would have you believe, the increased acceptance and visibility of vaping has not lead to a reverse in declining smoking rates among teenagers. They seem more willing to accept that vaping is in fact much safer than smoking. So if we truly value a world with less smoking, we need to stop letting anti-vapers suggest a societal acceptance of vaping will lead to more teenage smokers. That kind of misguided logic inadvertently gives a distinct advantage to Big Tobacco. The longer that the general public believes vaping to be similar in risk to smoking, the harder it will be to turn things around entirely.
Why do you think smoking rates have continued to decline even with the rise of vaping among teenagers? How can we better understand the relationship between vaping and smoking rates? Why do you think that marijuana usage rates haven’t risen alongside their increased acceptance? Let us know in the comments.