High Schoolers Smoking Less, Vaping More

E-cigarette advocates, anti-tobacco groups divided over historic decline in smoking rate
vaping and cigarettes

The youth smoking rate is at a historic 25-year low.

As of 2015, 10.8% of high school students smoked, marking a 31% decline from figures from the 2013 survey
and a 41% decline from the 2011 survey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released this latest data from its National Youth Risk Behavior Survey in early June.

As reported by Business Insider, this 10.8% figure was the lowest smoking rate in the CDC survey’s 25-year history.

But not everyone was celebrating. As cigarette use hit historic lows, electronic-cigarette use rose. In 2015, 24% of high schoolers reported using a vapor product in the past 30 days (up from 1% in 2011).

“Current cigarette smoking is at an all-time low, which is great news,” said CDC director Tom Frieden in a press release. “However, it’s troubling to see that students are engaging in new risk behaviors, such as using e-cigarettes.”

The amount of high schoolers in 2015 who reported using a vapor product in the past 30 days
Source: CDC

American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown expresses similar concerns. “Vaping has become so prevalent among U.S. high school students that it’s graduated to ‘risky behavior’ status,” she said in a press release. “The fact that e-cigs and other electronic nicotine products have surged in popularity with such an impressionable age group is extremely alarming.”

Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, disagrees, pointing to historic declines not just in the overall teen smoking rate, but also in the frequent smoking rate (3.4%, a 39% decline), daily smoking rate (3.2%, a 42% decline) and overall tobacco use (18.5%, a 23% decline).

“I have to admit that the anti-smoking groups are correct about electronic cigarettes: These products are indeed a gateway,” he writes on his Tobacco Analysis blog. “They are a gateway away from smoking.”

Siegel clarifies that declines in the smoking rate did not mean that high schoolers should be encouraged to vape. Instead, he suggests that the data debunks the theory that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to combustible tobacco use.

“Vaping is clearly not resulting in the re-normalization of smoking,” says Siegel. “It is quite the opposite. Vaping is helping to further denormalize smoking … helping to make smoking ever more unpopular and uncool.”