By Steve Birr
Public health experts are criticizing a federally funded study on vaping for “omitting” critical contextual information in order to claim the devices are a gateway to smoking for teens.
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) released their latest report on the alleged dangers of electronic cigarettes Tuesday, led by Dr. Benjamin Chaffee, which claims that “never-smoker teens” who try the devices are more likely to take up combustible cigarettes. The “gateway” theory on vaping was previously debunked in a collaborative study by researchers at the University of Stirling and Public Health England; however, tobacco control zealots continue to push the notion that vaping is hooking a new generation on tobacco.
Dr. Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and associate fellow with the R Street Institute, called out the researchers in a post on Tobacco Truth Wednesday, saying they misrepresent the results of the study to give the impression the devices are luring teens to cigarettes.
“The authors used a sophisticated analysis to arrive at these results, but news stories describing this as evidence of a gateway to teen smoking are inaccurate” Rodu said Wednesday on Tobacco Truth. “Chaffee and his colleagues, including anti-tobacco crusader Stanton Glantz, omitted information that is critical to putting their findings in perspective. Although teens trying other tobacco products were more likely to smoke, the majority of new smokers after one year came from the group that had not tried tobacco at baseline.”
The study used an analysis of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) survey for 2013 to 2014 to analyze the habits of 9,909 young adults. The UCSF researchers followed up with the teens a year later to see how their tobacco and nicotine use changed. While the study shows evidence that people who experiment with vaping devices and smokeless tobacco may also try cigarettes, the vast majority of cigarette smokers after a year had not previously used an alternative smoking product.
Of the 9,909 young adults surveyed after one year, only 219 smoked cigarettes within 30 days of being asked by researchers. Of the 219 people who smoked after one year, 175 had not used hookahs, smokeless tobacco or vaping devices at the beginning of the survey, according to Rodu.
“Even though the odds of smoking were higher among youth who had tried other products, the number of smokers contributed by each of these groups was minuscule,” Rodu said. “The Chaffee article emphasizes odds ratios but omits or obscures important contextual information. While teens who try one tobacco product are more likely to try another, the dominant gateway in the PATH survey was from no previous tobacco use to cigarettes. No underage tobacco initiation is acceptable; neither is misdirection by researchers.”
Despite anxieties about teen use of e-cigarettes, as vaping grows in popularity, youth smoking is plummeting to record lows.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey released Dec. 14 shows that reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to only 4.2 percent this year, down from 24.6 percent in 1997, even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices increased.
Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes; namely, that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of American smokers quit combustible tobacco. Roughly 2.62 million former smokers were using a vape in 2016.