A second national report on teen smoking patterns shows traditional cigarette smoking dropping again to a historic low, with electronic cigarette and vaporizer use also declining.
The federal government’s 2016 National Youth Tobacco survey determined that just 8 percent of ninth through 12th-graders smoked at least once over a 30-day period.
That’s down from 15.8 percent in 2011 and 9.3 percent in 2015. The rate was 28.5 percent when the survey debuted in 1999.
E-cig and vaporizer usage fell from a high of 16 percent in 2015 to 11.3 percent for 2016. That represented a reversal of a five-year trend of increased youth e-cig use.
Some analysts say the jump from 4.5 percent of teens using e-cigs and vaporizers in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014 came primarily from changes in how questions about other tobacco products were presented.
Overall, teen use of any tobacco product dropped from 25.3 percent to 20.2 percent.
By comparison, the 2016 version of the Monitoring the Future study by the University of Michigan determined 10.5 percent of 12th-graders used tobacco products, down from 11.4 percent in 2015, and 4.9 percent of 10th-graders, down from 6.3 percent.
As for e-cigs and vaporizers, the breakdown was 13 percent of 12th-graders, down from 16 percent, and 11 percent of 10th-graders, down from 14 percent.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has indicated support for the role that e-cigs and other innovative nicotine and tobacco products can have in reducing overall traditional cigarette use.
“While the latest numbers are encouraging, it is critical that we work to ensure this downward trend continues over the long term across all tobacco products,” Gottlieb said Thursday.
The decline in traditional and e-cig usage was applauded both by anti-tobacco advocates, who want to severely limit or ban innovative tobacco and nicotine products along with traditional cigarettes, and anti-smoking advocates, who believe there is a prominent societal role for the innovation products.
The advocates, as typical, differed on what they credited for producing the decline in tobacco usage.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, cited higher tobacco taxes, comprehensive smoke-free laws, enhanced federal regulatory oversight, and more than 245 communities and California and Hawaii recently raising their minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21.
Anti-smoking advocates say the increased use of e-cigs and vaporizers is a sign of youths recognizing that those products are a potential reduced-risk way to consumer tobacco and nicotine. Some studies, most notably the Royal College of Physicians, have determined that e-cigs may be 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
With e-cigs and vaping becoming a more popular choice over traditional cigarettes for a third consecutive year, there is concern among anti-tobacco advocates that their use will normalize the use of all tobacco products.
Myers said “it is too soon” to determine whether the e-cig use decline “is a long-term trend or a one-year blip.”
Myers repeated his concern that the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress will thwart the progress through rolling back restrictions put into place by the Obama administration.
Critics also have taken state legislatures, controlled by Democrats and Republicans, to task for continuing to siphon Master Settlement Agreement funding, paid by tobacco manufacturers to be used for health-care programs, into their General funds.
“Given budget cuts to public health and tobacco cessation in North Carolina, the challenge will be to continue this trend,” said Dr. John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Reynolds spokeswoman Jane Seccombe said the recent decline in youth use of all types of tobacco products “is really good news.”
“Reynolds and its subsidiaries share society’s belief that minors should never use tobacco products, and we remain committed to transforming the tobacco industry through youth tobacco prevention efforts,” Seccombe said.
David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa and the author of a recent e-cig study, said the survey provides more evidence that “the fear-mongering about vaping leading to cigarette smoking lacks any credible evidence.”
“The safer and less expensive products speed the demise of the more hazardous and more costly alternatives.”
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