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Is Teen Vaping Really An Epidemic?

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    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.

    The paper also breaks the data down between never-smokers, people who’ve smoked in the past but not in the last month, and current smokers. This is another crucial point when it comes to working out what the NYTS data actually shows. Are never-smokers who vape just experimenting, while current smokers are vaping more regularly? This type of question is much more informative than the standard American public health approach of lumping them all together to produce a scary number.

    When the NYTS data is reported by the CDC, the focus is always firmly on the number of students vaping at all in the past 30 days. Those vaping on one day in the past month are lumped together with those vaping every single day, even though the original survey question offers more detailed information. The new paper uses this data to classify the past month vapers and smokers. Vaping or smoking on between 1 and 19 of the past 30 days is defined as infrequent use, and more than that is called frequent use.

    The results show that most students don’t vape or smoke, with about 77 percent never smoking and around 72 percent never vaping. Out of the students who had ever smoked (even one puff in their lives), around 28 percent had smoked in the past 30 days, and 1.7 percent were frequent smokers.

    For the students who had ever tried vaping (even just one puff), just over 39 percent had vaped in the past 30 days, but half of these had only vaped on one or two days. As with cigarettes, only 1.7 percent were frequent vapers, and just 1.1 percent vaped every day.

    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.

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