Is vaping a better option than cigarette smoking? Experts warn about the dangers to youth.
Vaping devices first hit the market in the U.S. in the mid-2000s with very little federal oversight, and unfortunately, became popular amongst adolescents just as curious about them as they were cigarettes before them. Then, in 2018, the surgeon general announced that youth vaping is an “epidemic,” reporting that many easily become addicted due to deceptive marketing. There is a ton of conflicting information out there about vaping and whether it is better and worse than cigarette smoking. Is it more or less addicting? Does it help with smoking cessation? Even health and medical experts report differing points-of-view. Here is some of the information out there.
According to the surgeon general, “E-cigarettes entered the U.S. marketplace around 2007, and since 2014, they have been the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. youth. E-cigarette use among U.S. middle and high school students increased 900% during 2011-2015, before declining for the first time during 2015-2017. However, current e-cigarette use increased 78% among high school students during the past year, from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018. In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, currently use e-cigarettes.”
Some not so conflicting information is that nicotine is harmful regardless of a person’s age. It is an addictive drug, and it is especially dangerous for youth with their developing brains. The Surgeon General has warned that the as many as “24 million Americans” have died from nicotine addiction over the past 60 years. Yet, vaping devices continue to be sold in the U.S. as a cigarette alternative.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepped in and began regulating vaping products as “new tobacco products.” And it became illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under 18, then 21 in late 2019, and the products required warning labels. At the time, the FDA distributed a release saying that it would “benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products. This would outweigh the risk to youth and lead to an overall protection of the public health.”
However, in October of this year, JAMA Network Open published conflicting information in a study reporting that researchers “did not find evidence that switching to e-cigarettes prevented relapse to cigarette smoking,” according to lead author John P. Pierce, emeritus professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California, San Diego.
In fact, the researchers of that study concluded “those who were using any alternative tobacco product after they quit smoking, including e-cigarettes (but also cigars, hookahs and the like), were 8.5 percent more likely to have relapsed than those who were not. The proportion of daily e-cigarette users and tobacco abstainers who were smoking again was about the same: just over a third. In other words, e-cigarettes did not appear to be more successful at preventing a return to smoking than going cold turkey did.”
“What’s important here is, is vaping helping a subset of smokers quit smoking who wouldn’t have otherwise done so?” summed up Kenneth E. Warner, an emeritus professor and dean of health management and policy at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.
Alayna P. Tackett, an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, posed the question: “[Smokers are] trying to quit, they want to quit, how can we best support them?”