Is there really an 'epidemic' of teen vaping?


The Commissioner of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, recently released a statement regarding the 'epidemic' of teen vaping that's taking place in the United States. Some of the statement included comments on advertising, while some were on vape juice. While the message depicts a dismal, frightening landscape of teenagers vaping everywhere from schools to bedrooms, the numbers don't necessarily agree with the claims. In agreement with the FDA, we also want teen vaping to decline. However, to call the current levels an 'epidemic' is somewhat misleading. Let's dig into the data and see where it leads.

E-Cigarette
First and foremost, we need to be clear about the definition of the word Epidemic. We are, after all, discussing whether or not teen vaping is at epidemic levels. An Epidemic is defined by Webster's Dictionary as: "affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time", which makes sense. However, at the FDA and CDC, you would think there would be some sort of number that they use to define the parameters of an Epidemic, right? Unfortunately, there is no defined number. This is a tough situation, because, yes, teen vaping numbers are at around 11.7% after 2017, according to CDC data, but the rates of tobacco use have also fallen drastically. Even as recently as 1998, 22% percent of high school seniors reported smoking cigarettes daily. Even by including e-cigarettes in the data for teen smoking for last year, only about 16% of high-schoolers use tobacco products at all. This is down from 22% of high-schoolers smoking 20 years ago. If I'm at the FDA, I see the rates of tobacco use going down, and I see the rates of youth smoking at an all-time low. But, after all, where does this data even come from? Who's collecting it? How are they collecting it? Important questions for us all to be asking...

What about other controlled substances? Are the teen vaping/tobacco use numbers higher than other substances? No. No, they are not. In fact, if you stick with the 11.7% number for high school teens for vaping, teens are using other controlled substances at alarmingly higher rates than they are vaping. For example, according to data acquired at the CDC, nearly 20% (19.8%) of high school students in the United States report being regular marijuana users. That is almost double the number of students who report having vaped once in the last 30 days. Have you heard anything about teen marijuana use as an epidemic? Probably not. Here's another example: According to a Monitoring the Future data report regarding substance abuse by high school students in the United States from 2016, around 33% of high school students have drank alcohol in the last 30 days. 33%. That number is almost triple the number of teens vaping in the United States, but you don't hear the FDA commissioner calling that an epidemic either. While I'm not arguing that teen vaping is something to be ignored, it's not, it's also not the substance that's being abused the most by teens.

The big question left over after looking at the data is: why is the crackdown coming on vaping and not on other substance abuse? While we could speculate and tell you our thoughts, we really don't know the answer to that question. It's important to remember, no matter what you hear, evaluate everything.

Until next time, have a great week and VAPE ON.

Sources:
- http://monitoringthefuture.org/data/16data/16drtbl3.pdf
- https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/UnderageDrinking/UnderageFact.htm
- https://nccd.cdc.gov/Youthonline/App/Results.aspx?LID=XX
- https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/substance-use/drugs/tobacco/trends/index.html

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