You may have seen the recent headlines about teen ecig use. The widely reported story screams that teen ecigarette use has tripled in the last year. The headlines are based on the CDC interpretations of the latest data from the annual Youth Tobacco Use Survey.
The National Youth Tobacco Survey is completed annually by about 20,000 middle and high school students from public and private schools across the United States. Students are asked about their use of tobacco products in the last 30 days.
The survey included electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product based on ecigs containing nicotine. Many ecigs do not contain nicotine and in fact another survey indicated that 96% of never smokers that have tried vaping chose ecig products with 0 nicotine content. Right off the bat you can see problems percolating with the data collected from this survey. There is a false inclusion of electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product based on nicotine but the survey does nothing to address the probability that many of the ecigarettes tried by students were non-nicotine.
In any case the idea that ecigs are tobacco products is highly questionable. Ecigarettes function nothing like combustible tobacco cigarettes and their inclusion as a tobacco product is a CDC objective for the purposes of imposing crippling legislation on the ecig industry. The facts is that if ecigs are tobacco products, then so are the Nicotrol and Nicorette inhalers. For that matter the patch and gum would also have to be considered to be tobacco products.
These may seem like unimportant factors but they do indicate a built in bias. As far as manipulation of data goes, the worst is yet to come. Wait until we get into the real numbers. Do you consider omission to be manipulation?
What Percentage Of Teens Are Using E-Cigs Vs Smoking
Let’s get right into the numbers and see if they are as scary as the CDC wants you to believe they are:
- In 2014, a total of 24.6% of high school students reported current use of a tobacco product in the last 30 days.
- 12.7% reported current use of 2 or more tobacco products.
- Among all high school students, ecigarettes (13.4%) were the most common tobacco products used
- Hookahs (9.4%) ranked second highest
- Cigarettes (9.2%) came in third.
- Cigars (8.2%) were next on the list.
- Smokeless tobacco (5.5%).
- Snus (1.9%).
- Pipes (1.5%).
- Bidis (0.9%) (Bidis are an Indian cigarette with tobacco flake wrapped in tendu).
- Dissolvables (0.6%)
In 2013 the percentage of students that had reported using an ecig in the last 30 days was 4.5%. So yes, there is a big increase. We have to be wary of this increase to be sure. There is, however, a bigger story here that the CDC and the scary headlines are not talking about.
The fact is that teen tobacco use is at an all-time low. An NY Times reports indicates that some teens are switching from tobacco to ecigs. Teen smoking rates have declined by 28%. The biggest decline in years.
Have ecigs succeeded in reducing teen cigarette smoking after years in minimal improvements? Why is it that the CDC is not talking about the decline in teen cigarette smoking? Isn’t that what we have been trying to accomplish for generations? Isn’t that something that should also be in the headlines? If you smell an agenda, you are not alone.
The CDC’s Tom Frieden And Ecigarettes
The CDC is no fan of electronic cigarettes. CDC director Tom Frieden has been aggressively attacking vaping for some time. In an April, 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Frieden pointed his main concerns regarding ecigarettes.
- He is concerned that kids will use ecigs and transition into smoking.
- He says that electronic cigarettes get smokers who would have quit to keep smoking then ecigs are doing more harm than good.
- He thinks that people that have already quit smoking will start vaping and go back to cigarettes.
- Frieden thinks that if you try ecigs to quit rather than taking a medication then more harm than good is done.
- Finally, the old “reglamorizing smoking” argument.
Let’s take a look at Dr. Frieden’s concerns one by one.
Counterpoint 1: Teens are not transitioning to tobacco. In fact, stats show that although teens are using ecigs more frequently, teen smoking use is at an all-time low. The New York Times interviewed a number of teens that are using ecigs, many because they have switched away from tobacco. The majority of those teens report no interest in smoking cigarettes.
David Abrams, ED of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, an anti-tobacco group, said that ecigs are “not a gateway into smoking, and they might be accelerating the gateway out.”
Given the massive decline in teen tobacco use in the last year, it would make sense to infer that teens are switching to vaping, potentially in an effort to avoid tobacco.
Important point here that the CDC is ignoring, and this is coming from the exact data that the CDC is using to lambaste ecigs, while ecig use increased teen smoking decreased by 25%! That is the biggest decline in years.
Imagine if the CDC had come up with an initiative that led to a 25% decrease in teen smoking rates. They would be calling press conferences and congratulating themselves to no end.
In essence, considering the decline in teen cigarette use, ecigs have actually contributed more to the reduction in teen smoking than any other initiative in recent memory. That is a conclusion born logically from the exact stats that Dr. Frieden and the CDC are taking out of context to scare the public about ecigs.
“Ecigs are not a gateway into smoking, and they might be accelerating the gateway out.” – Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies
Note to the CDC, we advise you not to blend agendas with logic; they simply do not blend well together. Context and honest evaluation are needed and, frankly, the public deserves nothing less.
Counterpoint 2: Dr. Frieden is concerned that many smokers would have completely quit if they had not had the option of ecigarettes. This is an astonishing statement.
Freiden himself acknowledges the fact that the fight against tobacco harm is far from over. This year, 480,000 Americans will die due to smoking related illness. Is losing half a million people a year a situation that demands more or less options? That question is pretty damn easy to answer if you ask me.
Millions of smoker’s are desperate for an answer. Smokers are well aware of the approved, Big Pharma options available to help them quit smoking. Most have tried. Does Dr. Freiden really believe that a 20-year smoker is so unaware? Unfortunately, it seems that the reality of the matter is that smokers are perhaps more aware of the reality of “approved” smoking cessation options than is the CDC itself.
The success rate of approved smoking cessation is not one iota shy of abysmal. That is not to say that smokers should not try them, they absolutely should. Studies show that the approved methods can enhance you chance of quitting smoking vs quitting cold turkey but ultimately condemning the fate of current smokers to the drug concoctions of the CDC’s Big Pharma friends cannot be the only acceptable road to take. By the way Dr. Frieden, have you seen the side effects of some of those drugs?
Of course some of the approved methods of smoking cessation involve NRT’s or nicotine replacement therapies. The idea is to replace the nicotine from a cigarette with a non-toxic nicotine source like a trans-dermal patch. Then, the person still has nicotine in their system but the CDC and legions of other ecig critics never seem to worry about nicotine patch users going back to cigarettes.
Cue the scary theme music from Jaws because the CDC’s tune changes dramatically when it comes to nicotine and electronic cigarettes. Any conversation involving e-cigarettes causes the CDC and other critics to bring out the double standard sledgehammer and start swinging.
Frieden and others swing wildly when they vilify ecigs because they contain nicotine. Where is the vitriol for nicotine gum? Why does the FDA allow the sale of pure nicotine at all? Well, because nicotine is not the bad guy here. The bad guys are the thousands of toxic chemicals that are created when you burn tobacco. The CDC knows that but they never waste an opportunity to scare the general public into being fearful of ecigs.
Recently, the CDPH declared ecigs to be a public health hazard. They started a website designed to connect American ecig companies to Big Tobacco, which is also incorrect, and to scare people about ecigs in general. The website, Still Blowing Smoke.Org, also attempts to connect nicotine to cancer. Yes, when it comes to ecigs nicotine is pure chemical evil but when it comes to nicotine in an approved NRT the CDPH position is, and I quote, “Nicotine replacement therapies can be especially helpful for people who smoke more than 15 cigarettes per day.” CDPH.
To be technical, in the study of logic applying a double standard engages the logical fallacy known as “special pleading”. When you attempt to sway public opinion when your argument has faulty logic, you have to hope that with enough volume and repetition your argument will be believed anyway.
The CDC and CDPH have millions of tax dollars at their disposal. They have contacts in media everywhere. They can buy ads and tv commercials. They can buy volume and repetition. No wonder they are not too worried about invalid arguments.
Most independent American ecig companies do not have the resources to fight back. At ECCR, we don’t have millions to buy TV commercials. Like most of the vaping community, we’re apparently stuck dealing in logic and reason.
Counterpoint 3: Dr. Frieden worries that people who have quit smoking will start vaping and then go back to ecigarettes. Well, people that have quit smoking never go back to it so…. wait…… I think that maybe, just maybe smoking relapse may have already been an issue prior to the advent of the electronic cigarette.
Sarcasm is always a fun way to deliver a point. Especially when combating a dubious argument. We don’t know if a smoker who has quit will be more likely to relapse because of the existence and availability of electronic cigarettes. If someone still experiences cravings, cigarettes are still ubiquitously available and the temptation to relapse is something that smokers have to manage. It is unfounded to suggest the ecigs add to the temptation.
If, and this is a big if in the 100% speculative world of Dr. Frieden, a smoker that has quit for several years decides to vape chances are that he or she will not end up smoking cigarettes. Once someone is a vaper, they generally detest smoking. There has also been an ecig study that shows that ecigs are less addictive than tobacco.
Part of what makes cigarettes so addictive is the additives in tobacco that accelerate the absorption of nicotine. Toxins like ammonia actually give nicotine a higher-octane punch. We know this so it makes perfect sense that ecigs would be less addictive. Dr. Frieden knows this as well. He is a highly intelligent man and physician that has tackled nationwide health problems numerous times. He absolutely knows the difference.
What I find interesting here is Dr. Frieden’s gift for fearful speculation. He has dismissed any ecig study showing that ecigarettes help people quit smoking. If you are someone who has freed themselves from tobacco with ecigs and you were to tell the CDC your story, well sorry, your experience is anecdotal and cannot be considered valid data.
If the three to four million Americans who now vape instead of smoke were to tell the CDC about their success with ecigs experience, well as quoted by the LA times, Dr. Frieden has a quote for you. “The plural of anecdotal is not data.”
One can only wonder what plurality of smokers turned vapers might qualify for consideration as significant enough to be considered valid for the purposes of compiling accurate data.
At any rate, the interesting thing here is Dr. Frieden’s ability to dismiss the inconvenient data calling it anecdotal while at the same time freely engaging in speculative projections of former smokers returning to tobacco via ecigs and then using this speculation as justification to openly fight for limiting the available options to Americans who need an answer to smoking right now.
Counterpoint 4: Dr. Frieden believes that if you use ecigs to try and quit when you could have used a medication instead then there is more harm than good.
Difficulty breathing, chest pains, anger, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, mood swings, general feeling if discomfort and illness, loss of taste, weakness etc etc. These are some of the possible side effects of Chantix.
Medical science today is obsessed with finding a drug to solve everything. Addiction to medications is a very serious problem yet the medical industry and Big Pharma are simpatico in their approach. Let’s not even mention the incidents of accidental household poisonings involving unattended medications.
To their credit, many of their innovations are nothing short of miraculous, but every miraculous medication can be another person’s nightmare.
In short, there is no perfect solution. Having those pharmaceutical options available to smokers is a good thing. They are worth a try. The sad fact is that the success rates of smoking cessation drugs are just plain not good enough to come close to justifying excluding other smoking alternatives.
More than that, how many smokers have already tried one of these medications or Nicotine Replacement Therapies to manage nicotine withdrawal symptoms only to go back to smoking? The sad answer is millions.
Note to the CDC. We will lose 480,000 people this year to smoking. Giving smokers more alternatives, whether you approve of them or not, is not doing more harm than good.
Counterpoint 5: Will ecigarettes make smoking glamorous again? No one wants this to happen. The reality is that smoking cigarettes is still common in movies. Binge drinking and drunken adventure is a common recipe for a hit movie. Where do you begin to draw lines?
This is where dialogue is important. We cannot be a nanny state and personal responsibility plays a role here. Our culture has glamorized a litany of unhealthy activities and violent acts. How do we make sure that ecigs remain a smoking alternative and not a new trend?
Right now the data shows that non-smokers are not vaping. That is great news. Of course there are probably exceptions, there always will be. Still, for the most part ecigs are reaching the consumers who need them, smokers looking for an alternative.
It is my firm belief that the fact that non-smokers are not vaping is due to the responsible, ethical practices of American ecig companies and vape shop owners nationwide. Freiden and others love to associate vaping with Big Tobacco but that is Big Baloney.
Big Tobacco does have a big piece of the pie because of their massive distribution but American ecig companies are making the best products and are the choice of vapers.
The vaping community has no love for Big Tobacco. The ecig revolution has been a way to spite tobacco and that sentiment is widely embraced. There is a strong effort to discourage non-smokers from vaping but there is no concrete way to do so.
In the same way you cannot stop someone from buying his or her first pack of cigarettes or first bottle of vodka. You cannot build any reasonable policy on the premise of preventing every scenario. The only positive is that if someone does start vaping at least they will not be exposed to the thousands of toxins in tobacco smoke.
Does The CDC Ecig Policy Make Sense?
Based on the lack of context and balance concerning ecig criticisms, not acknowledging the decline in teen smoking in relation to teen ecig use, and the very limited and largely ineffective ‘approved’ options available to smokers it is safe to say that the CDC’s hard line, win at all costs approach to scaring people away from ecigs does not make sense.
Valid criticisms do not require manipulation by omission, fearful speculation or endless double standards. Moreover, this type of criticism is counterproductive. Would it not make more sense to treat vaping and ecigarettes as a potential ally rather than an enemy? Would it not be far more productive to actually listen to the vaping community rather than writing them off as scientifically invalid? Would it not make far more sense to work with the ecig industry to work toward constructive solutions to the legitimate concerns of teen ecig use and tobacco harm?
Dr. Frieden himself once spoke of the comparison between ecigs and cigarettes saying, “Stick to stick, they’re almost certainly less toxic than cigarettes.” Sound to me like that could be a starting point for dialogue rather than a jumping off point to launch a negative propaganda campaign.
It may have been painful for Dr. Frieden to do so but even he had to admit that ecigs are less toxic than cigarettes. Of course, when you consider that tobacco smoke contains thousands of toxins and ecig vapor is generated from 3 GRAS (generally recognized as safe) food grade ingredients trying to argue that vaping is as toxic as smoking is a fool’s errand.
The ecig industry and the CDC agree that ecigs are certainly less toxic than cigarettes. Sounds like a pretty good place to begin a productive conversation. With that common ground acknowledged, there is a great opportunity to move forward and work toward progress, toward maximizing the potential of a new technology to bring positive change to the lives of millions. Now that would make sense.