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Is Teen Vaping Really Prevailing?

teen vaping

The issue of teen vaping is being used by vape opponents as a wedge to discourage public acceptance of e-cigarettes as an adult product.

The reason for that is pretty simple: vaping is much safer than smoking and any adult who switches will improve their health. Vaping helps smokers; that much is basically undeniable. So if you understand that, how can you argue that vaping is a bad thing?

Skeptics say the problem is teen vaping. If non-smoking teens are starting to vape in substantial numbers, then the benefits to smokers are offset - at least a bit - by potential downsides to youth. This is a real issue to many people, and a fair concern - but only if it's backed up by the data.

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Making sense of the data

The paper sets out to use the data from the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey in the way it should have been used. While the original Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting of the results focused on the number of students vaping in the past month, they never discussed how often the students vaped. A never-smoker trying a single puff on an e-cig is massively different from one vaping every day. Every day use is potentially an issue; a single puff is probably just curiosity and barely worth mentioning.

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These are just the basic results but already they clearly show why reporting any use in the past 30 days doesn't capture the reality of the situation. Only 12.6 percent of students had vaped at least once in the past month. When the results were reported by the CDC, they said these 12.6 percent are "current vapers," which implies frequent use. But as the paper shows, frequent use was only really reported by 1.7 percent of teens. The reality is that teens are mostly occasional experimenters, rather than regular users at risk for addiction.

Why do teens vape?

But none of this really gets to the heart of the issue. The important question is which teens are vaping frequently. If it's predominantly teens who smoke, vaping is almost certainly having a positive effect for high school and middle school students. If lots of teens who've never smoked are picking up vaping, then it could be the case that vaping is genuinely causing a problem. The CDC's official communications tend to paint it this way on the basis of past-month vaping or even less recent experimentation, but what does the data really say?

The paper looks at the rates of vaping according to smoking status, and the findings are fairly predictable. Only 5.5 percent of teens who'd never smoked had vaped in the past 30 days, and of those, 58 percent only vaped on one or two days in the month. Overall, just 0.3 percent of never-smoking teens were frequent vapers – that's just three in a thousand.

Is teen vaping a real problem?

The big question this paper helps to address is whether teen vaping is really anything to worry about, and the answer based on the evidence is "no." As for why, the authors conclusion really sums it up:

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The uncomfortable truth for the CDC is that if most regular vapers are smokers and ex-smokers – and they are – the rise of e-cigarettes can be a good thing for teens in the same way it is for adults. Vaping is a public health ally, whether public health chooses to accept it or not.

More details in http://vaping360.com/teen-vaping-2015/

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