The days of Joe Cool advertising cigarettes are long gone. Instead, today’s students are routinely warned about the dangers of smoking. Regulators have been less sure what kids these days think of e-cigarettes, fearing that the flavored options might be temping for youth who would otherwise not try tobacco. E-cigarettes, a relatively new form of tobacco use, overtook cigarettes in popularity among youth in 2015. The results of the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) puts some of those fears to rest, showing that teen vaping has fallen for the second-consecutive year.
According to the CDC, use of e-cigarettes by high schoolers has dropped from 16 percent to 11.7 percent since 2015. This means roughly a million fewer youth tobacco users, a shift with the potential to cause major benefits to public health.
The numbers are a welcome sign for the vaping industry, which has been working to persuade regulators that the introduction of vapes has not increased youth tobacco use.
“The CDC’s statistics demonstrate once again that e-cigarette curiosity amongst youth peaked in 2015 and now remains at a statistically significant reduced level in 2017, having dropped two years in a row,” said Tony Abboud, president of the Vapor Technology Association, a trade group for the vaping industry.
For the industry, the survey results provide hope that American regulators will follow their British counterparts, embracing vaping and e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco use. In one encouraging sign, the American Cancer Society (ACS) on Wednesday released a public health statement on tobacco use that acknowledged the different health impacts of “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” or e-cigarettes as compared to smoking.
The statement acknowledged that while nicotine was the source of smokers’ addictions, their toxicity is determined by many of the other chemicals in cigarettes. The ACS would not go as far as to call e-cigarettes “safe” like medicinally administered nicotine, but it stressed that they “are likely to be much less harmful than combustible tobacco products.”
This distinction between smoking and e-cigarettes is an important step for the industry and American public regulators. In its statement, the ACS acknowledged that consumers were frequently misinformed about the risks of e-cigarettes, believing them to be just as harmful as traditional cigarettes. It also agreed to use its programs to provide accurate information about e-cigarettes, stressing that while they were not completely safe, they were still an improvement.
“Through our programs, services, and collaboration with health systems partners, ACS will promote tobacco-cessation strategies and develop both health care provider and consumer-facing materials that: Provide accurate, up-to-date information about combustible tobacco products, ENDS, and other novel tobacco products to smokers—making clear that use of any tobacco product can be harmful, but cigarette smoking is by far the most dangerous form of tobacco,” the statement read.
This change marks a separation between the ACS and the Truth Initiative (formerly the American Legacy Foundation), the largest anti-tobacco public health non-profit in the country.
“The Truth Initiative has lost credibility on the issue of e-cigarettes with its constant refrain of fear and refusal to acknowledge the real science behind vaping and the real threat of combustible tobacco products,” Abboud continued. “By contrast, the American Cancer Society should be applauded for presenting the first balanced and honest statement on e-cigarettes by a major public health group in the United States.”