Teen Smoking Rates At All Time Low Despite Growth Of Vaping

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2017’s Monitoring the Future report found that nearly 75% less high school seniors are smoking compared with 1998 numbers

Adequate surveys and polls are needed to gauge the level of knowledge on virtually any topic. When it comes to the American youth, Monitoring The Future is one of the leaders in understanding everything from specific behavior to their core beliefs. They release a new report every year, which among other things, asks teens about their relationship with tobacco and vaping. The most recent report found that rates of teenage smoking are continuing to drop, going as far to say they’d reached “historic lows.” These findings seem to hurt credibility for the belief that the growth of vaping would lead to a slowing, or even reversal, of the dropping smoking rates.

The question is far from answered though, as many still stand by their belief that legitimizing vaping for its harm reduction value will eventually lead more teens to think that vaping is harmless. Taking it one step further, these people usually believe that vaping will also act as a gateway to smoking. Although the research has mainly rebuked these claims, not enough time has passed to satisfy many critics. It’s encouraging to see a well known independent organization give such strong support to the idea that vaping is a vital key to winning the fight against tobacco as opposed to a potential step backward.

Annual MTF Report

Likely the most eye-catching finding of this years MTF report was the dramatic drop in the number of high school students who currently smoke. Among seniors, the number had plummeted from over 35% (36.5%) down under 10% (9.7%). These results were also found among the younger classes, with many seeing even more drastic drops. For example, there was a drop in smoking rate from 30.4% to 5.0% among tenth graders and from 21% to just 1.9% of eighth graders. These trends stayed consistent even in the face of the explosion of the vaping industry over the last ten years.

The MTF report has also been asking teens questions about their relationship to vaping since 2014. Last year’s report found that 16.6% of high school seniors reported vaping at least once over the previous month. This number was lower in younger groups, with 13.1% of sophomores and only 6.6% of eighth graders reporting use over the same timeframe. Although they’ve just been collecting data on vaping for the last three years, these numbers represent rises in teen vaping each year. According to other studies on the subject, teen vaping virtually tripled between the years of 2011 and 2013 alone.

Some have postulated the rise in vaping hasn’t resulted in a corresponding increase in teen smoking because teens don’t see vaping as a tobacco product. In fact, many students don’t even vape e-liquids that have nicotine in them. According to the MTF report, 58% of vaping seniors said they only vaped nicotine-free juices. If that wasn’t enough, CDC findings found that most teens aren’t vaping regularly, as less than 3% of students said they’d vaped on a majority of days in the last month. Further studies into this question have yielded similar results and begun to wear down the deniers.

Additional Teen Vaping Studies

Public Health England (PHE), who is the public health agency in Britain, published their own study analyzing the smoking and vaping rates of teens last year. To uncover the trends, PHE interviewed over 60,000 students between the ages of 11 and 16 about their relationship with vaping. Researchers found there was no apparent connection between starting to vape and eventually picking up cigarettes. They concluded that no more than 0.5% of never-smoking teens are currently vaping on a daily basis. Therefore the overwhelming majority of teenage vapers must previously have been smokers.

These numbers seem to indicate that while many believe vaping may lead kids to pick up smoking, it may actually be the other way around. In fact, based on this study and others like it, it seems that student vapers are mostly using the devices for the same reasons adults pick them up, smoking cessation help. PHE also published a now-famous report back in 2015 that concluded vaping was at least 95% safer than smoking. So it appears that e-cigarettes are filling the much-needed role of harm reduction and smoking cessation tool for not only adults but many teens as well.

Implications

It’s a shame that many people still wrongly believe that acceptance of vaping will lead to more teenage smoking. While the research is still relatively new, a visible consensus is growing. Not only is vaping at least 95% safer than smoking, but studies have indicated that it may be the best smoking cessation tool we have as well. Researchers found that vaping even outperformed prescription drugs designed to help smokers quit. Despite these findings, many remain concerned that widespread acceptance of vaping will have undesirable consequences for the youth.

The story goes that if teens see vaping legitimized for its dramatic harm reduction value, that’ll telegraph to them it’s 100% safe and therefore ripe for experimentation. These concerns go even further to say that the supposed non-smokers turned vapers will eventually tire of the vapor products and opt for the real thing instead. Luckily, research on this topic has proven inconclusive at best for anti-vapers. Ultimately it appears that vaping is serving the same role for teens as it does for adults, that of an alternative to smoking. While we don’t condone the underage use of vaporizers, this evidence-based reality is more favorable than believing e-cigarettes are creating a brand new generation of smokers. In fact, if we genuinely desire the end of cigarettes altogether, we must be supporting vaping, not demonizing it.

Do you think vaping can lead non-smokers to start smoking? Is it okay for teens to use vaporizers if the alternative is smoking? How can we garner more support for vaping rights? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.

Dustin has been vaping for almost a decade. He found e-cigarettes in 2008 and quickly became drawn to them as an early adopter. He's been writing reviews ever since and has established himself as a well-versed authority on the subject.

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1 Response

  1. Vista Vapors Inc says:

    I believe that the rise of vaping comes from a push among smokers to try and quit! It’s always good to see that studies are showing a decrease in underage smoking as well!

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