Youth smoking plummeted with advent of vaping

I’ve written several posts about e-cigarettes — i.e., vaping. I consider them the most effective response to the enormous public health problem posed by cigarette smoking — the leading cause of preventable death in this country. Vaping offers a relatively healthy alternative for smokers who want to be done with cigarettes (as a great many smokers desire, but haven’t been able to accomplish). They deliver the nicotine that attracts people to cigarettes (and addicts them), but not the tar and other carcinogens that kill them.

One argument against vaping is that it might be a gateway drug for smoking by getting youngsters hooked on nicotine and used to the physical actions associated with smoking. The argument strikes me as implausible. Vaping might well hook people on e-cigarettes, but it seems like a stretch to argue that it will hook them on the thing they took up vaping, at least in part, to avoid.

Now comes a study showing that the advent of vaping is associated with a remarkable decline in smoking among young people. The study is by David Levy, a professor with the Georgetown University Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.

The study finds that the rate of decline in the use of cigarettes among students in the 10th through 12th grades tripled after e-cigarette use became more widespread in 2013. It also declined sharply among the entire population of those between the ages of 15-25.

Past 30-day vaping among high school students increased from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 4.5 percent in 2013, and to 13.4 percent in 2014. During this period, according to Levy, “smoking rates dropped between 25 and 40 percent, [with] smoking rates in young adults [dropping] by almost 50 percent.” And “most of that decline [has been] since 2013.”

Levy acknowledges that other measures have contributed to the decline. However, he maintains that “of the between 25 and 50 percent drop in smoking rates, maybe 10 percent might be explained by other policies.” He also makes the common sense point that the availability of e-cigarettes might make other anti-smoking efforts more effective. “Those other policies probably have become a lot more powerful as a result of e-cigarettes being there as a substitute for cigarettes,” he said.

It’s important to remember that Levy is a cancer researcher. Cancer is what we’re really talking about here. The important takeaway from Levy’s study is that vaping can prevent a huge amount of cancer and, indeed, has already prevented a large number of future cases.

The federal government is doing everything it can to prevent teen vaping. E-cigarette makers are cooperating. I question whether the policy makes sense.

In any event, the government will not be able to stamp out teen vaping (just as it has been unable to stop teen smoking). It’s good to know that one main argument for doing so — the notion that e-cigarettes use will lead to real smoking — appears to be invalid.

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