A Case of "Told You So"

A Case of "Told You So"

In a truly mind-bendingly terrifying moment, one of the key arguments used - particularly in the US - by the opponents of vaping has been gloriously ripped asunder. That argument is of course that The Children™ will use them and become “addicted” to nicotine. The thing is, there is a substantial portion of teens that vape without nicotine a statistic that is overlooked by the US tobacco controllers. You can imagine the shock and horror on their faces when they read that part of this study.

There is a lovely ongoing survey which began in 1975 and is maintained by the University of Michigan. The Monitoring The Future (MTF) survey has many purposes, among them is to study changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviour of young people in the United States.

Now of course, you would think that the sort of information that could be gathered from this annual survey would be welcomed - especially when the data reports that the smoking rate has continued to fall - and in some places it has actually fallen faster than before - but no. From a press release from the largest, and most annoying anti-smoker group:

This study does not examine whether the e-cigarette products used by youth actually contained nicotine. It does not tell us how many youth e-cigarette users are actually using products with nicotine, whether knowingly or unknowingly. The study acknowledges “it is possible that youth may self-report that they are not using nicotine when, in fact, they are vaping nicotine but do not realise it.”

Well of course it wouldn’t. It is a self-reporting survey. How many have taken a survey related to smoking in the past and when asked “do you want to quit” have replied in the affirmative? That is a simple case of telling the surveyor exactly what they want to hear. No ifs, no buts. Self reporting surveys are fraught with complications, you have to take it on faith that the participant is telling you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In reality that simply just isn’t the case, especially when it comes to lifestyle surveys on smoking, drinking and all the other good things in life that nanny would like to see banned.

But of course the press release completely misses the point, as it is meant to.

Even if some youth are using non-nicotine e-cigarettes, the large number of U.S. teens using e-cigarettes means that many are still consuming nicotine through e-cigarettes. Surveys have found that youth use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed, with the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey reporting that 24.1 percent of high school students were current (past-month) users of e-cigarettes in 2015 – compared to 10.8 percent who smoked regular cigarettes.

Yet this statement utterly fails to reflect the fact that cigarette smoking among teens in the US is at its lowest point:

CDC Current cigarette smoking stat - 2015

The short version - if they are using an e-cigarette/vapour product they are not bloody smoking.

But of course, the real reason this group are so “concerned” is shown here, plain as day:

E-cigarette use among kids is cause for concern. The large and growing number of youth e-cigarette users and youth perceptions that e-cigarette use is “cool” threaten to undo decades of progress in changing youth attitudes about and use of cigarettes.

Considering how the US views “use” of an e-cigarette, the “6+ times” - which would indicate weekly or more, could be classified as a regular user - 5% of Grade 12 use an e-cig in this category (n=215 out of the 1420 “lifetime use”) and 47% use nicotine. There’s a good chance here that 47% (102) are likely to be former smokers or maybe even dual users. However, Grades 10 & 8 show a completely different story:

Table 2, Monitoring the Future Survey

You see, Grade 8 - apparently the most “susceptible” to the marketing powers of “Big Tobacco” - a whopping 19% use nicotine. Out of 133. That’s a massive, groundbreaking… uh… 25. Compared to the 79 (out of 133) that don’t. Hardly an epidemic this youth nicotine vaping is it?

Looking at the “lifetime” use figures - remember this will likely include experimentation - Grade 12 64.73%, Grade 10 65.24% and Grade 8 65.96% (n= 1420, 1649 and 968 respectively) don’t use nicotine. If 52% isn’t a “substantial majority” than 64% and above most definitely qualifies. Thing is, and the authors of the study take great pains to point this out, it is about definition at this point. Those in power don’t care if a teen vapes nicotine, marijuana, just flavourings or any other substance, it’s the fact that they are vaping at all, or as per the FDA’s specifically tuned definition of a “tobacco product” - tobacco users. Here’s how the data would look if grouped ambiguously:

Table 3, Monitoring the Future Survey

Instead of segregating e-cigarette users, smokers and other substances consider all vaporiser users to be tobacco and nicotine users, regardless of what substance they are vaping. This approach doubles estimates of tobacco prevalence in 12th grade as compared to estimates based solely on cigarette smoking. Which of course means that headlines can be scary phrases like “skyrocketing rates of ecig use” - makes it all sound so terrifying doesn’t it?

Well it’s not because we told you so. Ask the right questions, get actual answers instead of hyperbole and maybe, just maybe it can be about health after all.

I do have one question though, if it was so glaringly obvious in the MTF data, why the heck did this study have to be completed by the same people that run the MTF survey to get the point across? Disillusionment? Frustration?

(Image credit Dawn Gilfillan/shutterstock.com)