Article from Reason by Jacob Sullum.

In the midst of a federal campaign against underage vaping, a new study finds that downward trends in smoking among teenagers and young adults accelerated as e-cigarette use rose. The findings, based on data from five national surveys, suggest that the official panic about the “epidemic” of e-cigarette use by minors, which has led to restrictions that affect adult access to vaping products and government-sponsored propaganda that exaggerates their hazards, is fatally misguided.

“A long-term decline in smoking prevalence among US youth accelerated after 2013 when vaping became more widespread,” Georgetown public health researcher David T. Levy and his co-authors report in the journal Tobacco Control. “These findings were also observed for US young adults, especially those ages 18–21. We also found that the decline in more established smoking, as measured by daily smoking, smoking half pack a day or having smoked at least 100 cigarettes and currently smoking some days or every day, markedly accelerated when vaping increased.” While “it is premature to conclude that the observed increased rate of decline in smoking is due to vaping diverting youth from smoking,” Levy et al. say, “it is a plausible explanation.”

What about the concern that vaping is having the opposite effect, leading to smoking by teenagers who otherwise never would have used tobacco? As Levy and his colleagues note, the fact that teenagers who try vaping are more likely than teenagers who don’t to subsequently try smoking does not necessarily mean that vaping is a “catalyst” for smoking. “The joint susceptibility hypothesis, also known as the common liability hypothesis, suggests that vaping is more likely to occur within a population with a propensity to use cigarettes due to shared common risk factors,” they write. But “even if there is some validity to the catalyst hypothesis, its impact is dwarfed by other factors.”

Since vaping is far less dangerous than smoking (at least 95 percent less dangerous, according to an estimate endorsed by Public Health England), the balance between these two possible effects is crucial in evaluating the public health impact of underage vaping and efforts to prevent it. “The divergent findings between individual-level cohort studies, which show a possible causal relationship between vaping and smoking, and those of population trends showing a negative association between vaping and smoking are not necessarily inconsistent,” Levy et al. note. “Rather, it is possible that trying e-cigarettes is causally related to smoking for some youth, but the aggregate effect of this relationship at the population level may be small enough that its effects are swamped by other factors that influence smoking behaviour.” The substitution of vaping for smoking is one of those factors.

Read the entire article at Reason.

Image Credit: By TBEC Review [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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