New data released moments ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should put to rest the contention that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking among youth. These new data show that the prevalence of smoking among high school students was cut in half in just five years - from 2011 to 2016 - at the same time as the use of e-cigarettes among these very same students increased dramatically from 1.5% to a peak of 16.0% in 2015.
There is more good news from the CDC. Not only has youth smoking declined at an unprecedented pace in the last five years, but for the first time, the prevalence of youth use of e-cigarettes has also declined, dropping from 16.0% in 2015 to 11.3% in 2016 (among high school students). Use of cigarettes among high school students continued to fall between 2015 and 2016, dropping from 9.3% to 8.0%.
The Rest of the Story
This is great news because it reveals that smoking is truly becoming unpopular among youth. The rate of decline in youth smoking is unprecedented. This despite the rapid rise in e-cigarette experimentation. These data are simply not consistent with the hypothesis that vaping is going to re-normalize smoking and that e-cigarettes are a gateway to youth smoking.
The drop in e-cigarette use is also reassuring because it suggests that vaping is largely a social phenomenon that involves experimentation and that the addictive potential of these products is quite low. It also suggests that the popularity of youth vaping has peaked and that concerns about vaping taking over and leading to nicotine addiction among a huge proportion of youth are not warranted.
If anything, the real concern at this point is whether the decline in e-cigarette use might actually slow the unprecedented declines we have seen in youth smoking.