The annual Monitoring the Future report indicates that the number of high school seniors who smoke has dropped 73% in the last 20 years
Monitoring The Future is an ongoing study of the American youth, aimed at understanding things from their behaviors to their values. Part of the annual survey deals with tobacco consumption, and since 2014, vaping as well. 2017’s report, released in December, indicated the adolescent smoking rate had reached “historic lows.” This stands in opposition to the organizations that claimed the growth of the vaping industry would slow, or even reverse, the declining smoking rates.
While these numbers are encouraging, some are still not convinced that vaping will not ultimately lead to more smokers. For instance, Thomas Glynn, who is the former Cancer Science Director with the American Cancer Society recently said in an interview with the New York Times that even though the declines in teenage smoking have been “astounding,” he believes that vaping may still lead to a spike in smoking rates. But regardless, this year’s MTF report supports the idea that vaping is helping the fight against smoking, not undermining it.
The 2017 Report
Some of the most flashy results of the 2017 Monitoring The Future report are the massive drops in teen smoking since the 1997 report. They reported that the smoking rate of high school seniors had dropped from 36.5% to 9.7%, a 73% decrease. These reductions were even more dramatic in younger students, with an 84% drop in 10th graders (30.4% to 5.0%), and a 91% drop among 8th graders (21% to 1.9%). Also noted in the report is the continued decline in smoking in spite of a significant rise in teenage vaping over the last five-plus years.
The same survey found that 16.6% of seniors, 13.1% of 10th graders, and 6.6% of 8th graders reported vaping at least once over the last month. As mentioned, the MTF report didn’t ask questions about vaping until 2014, but this year’s numbers are still considerably higher than they were in 2014. If you look at the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey, which started asking about e-cigarette usage in 2011, you’ll see that vaping nearly tripled among teens between 2011 and 2013.
One potential reason why the smoking rate has continued to plummet even with the explosion of the vaping industry is that many teens simply don’t see vaping as particularly connected to smoking. That being the case, a significant portion of them opt for nicotine free e-liquids, meaning they’re not liable to become addicted the same way. The MTF report found that over half, (58%) of high school seniors said their e-liquids contained, “only flavorings.” Not only that but only a tiny portion of teens who use an e-cigarette, vape every day. In fact, the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey found that less than 3% of high school students say they vaped on at least 20 days in the last month. Results like these are becoming more common, as researchers attempt to understand the relationship between vaping and smoking.
Another report looking into the youth smoking rates and its relationship to vaping was conducted by Public Health England last year. The federal health agency of England, PHE looked at data collected from over 60,000 teens between the ages of 11-16 and found no connection between vaping and picking up smoking. Even by their most liberal estimates, only 0.5% of teens who had never smoked before, vape every day. This shows that the overwhelming majority of teens who regularly vape had already been smokers before making a switch to vaping.
If these numbers hold true, it would mean that vaping is actually contributing to the decline in smoking rates, not slowing or reversing them. Instead of attracting teens with fruity flavors which then leads to regular smoking, it appears that vaping may be serving the same role for many teens that it serves for adults, being a successful smoking cessation tool. Many scientists agree that vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking, around 95% safer. If the majority of vaping teens are indeed former smokers, vaping is providing a valuable service to society, as opposed to actively endangering the youth.
It’s unfortunate that so many people still believe that vaping is going to lead to an increase in teenage smoking. The science is clear, not only is vaping at least 95% safer than smoking, but it’s also shown to be the most successful smoking cessation tool we currently have, even beating out prescription quit aids. The only argument left against acceptance of vaping as a much safer alternative to smoking is the impact it may have on the impressionable youth.
For years now, the rhetoric has been that if vaping is allowed to be advertised as a harm reduction tool, or quit aid, then more non-smoking teens will pick up vaping and eventually turn into full-blown cigarette smokers. These same fears are made worse by the wide selection of flavors, some of which are attractive to both kids and adults, such as desserts. But the science indicates these concerns are unfounded. The fact seems to be that vaping serves the same role among teens as it does for adults. Merely a much more successful and satisfying way to kick the smoking habit than anything else available. If we value continuing to reduce the smoking rate, we must support vaping.
Do you believe that vaping can lead teens to pick up smoking eventually? Should teens be allowed to vape if it keeps them off of the cigarettes they were smoking before? How do you think we could best make the case that vaping should be more supported by society? Let us know in the comments.