Good news, bad news — CDC: Teen smoking lower than ever, but largely because of e-cigs

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According to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control released this week, the teen smoking rate in the 2013 dropped to its lowest recorded level — 12.7 percent (down from 14 percent in 2012 and 15.8 percent in 2011).

This is pretty impressive when you consider the teen smoking rate was 28 percent in 2000, so the rate has been cut by more than one-half in 13.

Sounds great at first, unfortunately, there’s more to the story. Anti-tobacco education funding has been dropping for the past 15 years, so what’s really behind these numbers (I would like to think that seeing less smoking in movies and TV is a factor.)?

Unfortunately, the rise of e-cigs is probably one of the biggest factors. According to the group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the rate of teens using e-cigs has jumped from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 4.5 percent in 2013 (in raw numbers, that’s an increase from 250,000 kids in 2011 to 760,000 kids in 2013).

Combine the smoking and e-cig numbers (crude mathematics, because it doesn’t take into account kids smoking and using e-cigs both, but I’m just doing it to make a point). In 2011, that combined number would be 17.3 percent of kids using some nicotine product. In 2013, number would be 17.2 percent using a nicotine product.

I believe that is probably giving a pretty fair picture of what’s really going on. Fewer kids taking up smoking, more kids taking up e-cigs.

Now, e-cigs are not as bad as cigarettes, they don’t contain anywhere near the same level of carcinogens as cigarettes, but they still contain nicotine, which isn’t any good for you and is incredibly addictive. Also, the jury is out about whether e-cig use will eventually lead to cigarette use.

Numbers on a smaller scale from the state of Minnesota paint a similar picture.

From a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article:

An estimated 15,000 students have tried e-cigarettes without having tried any traditional tobacco products before, according to results from the 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey released Monday. Overall, 12.9 percent of high-schoolers said they had tried e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey.

By comparison, just 10.6 percent of high school students said they had smoked traditional cigarettes within the previous 30 days — down from 18.1 percent in 2011.

The survey, which included more than 4,200 students from 70 schools, suggests that e-cigarettes are now more popular among teens than the real thing.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is using these numbers as a clarion call for the Food and Drug Administration to crack down harder on e-cigs.

The FDA a few months ago proposed a set of regulations on e-cigs that were fairly lax. The best part of these proposed regulations was banning sales to kids under 18. However, there was absolutely zero in the proposed regs to crack down on e-cig advertising, which uses many of the same techniques used by cigarette makers to make cigarettes look cool and suave. Activists also want the FDA to crack down on sweet flavourings for e-cigs (I’m not as worked up about this, but I do want the FDA to curtail the advertising.).

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sees it the way I do:

This increase [of e-cig use] comes as e-cigarette makers have marketed their products with the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, slick TV and magazine ads, sponsorships of race cars and concerts, and sweet flavors such as gummi bear and cotton candy.

Minnesota officials agree:

Given looser restrictions on marketing “vaping” products, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, state health commissioner, said he worries that Minnesota youths will try the new devices and eventually develop addictions to nicotine.

“I have a real sense of déjà vu about e-cigarettes,” said Ehlinger, who cited the youth marketing — now outlawed — that drew children and teens to cigarettes years ago.

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