Alternate Point Of View: E-Cigarettes Keeping Kids Away From Tobacco


“E-cigarettes more popular than tobacco among teens, survey finds”

That’s the headline to a Bismarck Tribune article by Amy Sisk. And given the tone of the article, I guess we’re supposed to be alarmed that so many more kids are using e-cigarettes. Certainly that’s what North Dakota’s anti-tobacco gestapo took away. The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control, the official state agency which operates as BreatheND, has lately been creeping their anti-tobacco mission into anti-vaping, and they flagged Sisk’s article on their website.

But the real story here is that fewer kids seem to be smoking tobacco because of e-cigarettes. Almost making it seem like vaping is doing a better job of reducing youth tobacco use than BreatheND ever has. From Sisk’s article:

The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 12 percent of high school students statewide reported smoking at least once in the month before the survey. That’s down from 22 percent in 2005.

Meanwhile, 22 percent of students report having used an e-cigarette in the past month.

So smoking is down 22 percent among high school kids, while vaping is up 22 percent.

We can have a debate about whether or not kids should be vaping – it’s illegal now, and while I’m not keen on kids getting addicted to nicotine, I’m also not convinced it’s any more of a health risk than caffeine consumption – but shouldn’t we be happy that fewer kids are smoking tobacco?

Vaping may not be good for you, but it’s a country mile better for you than tobacco use. Meaning this shift from tobacco to vaping among high school students is likely a net win for public health.

Of course, the anti-tobacco gestapo would probably tell us that e-cigs are just a “gateway drug” for regular tobacco use. But that doesn’t line up with the data. According to data compiled by the CDC, most people who are vaping are people who were previously smoking.

“According to the 2014 National Health Interview Survey, 13 percent of American adults have tried an e-cigarette, including 48 percent of current smokers, 55 percent of ‘recent’ quitters (defined as respondents who had last smoked less than a year before the survey), 9 percent of ‘long-term’ quitters (defined as respondents who had last smoked a year or more before the survey), and just 3 percent of people who have never smoked,” writes Jacob Sullum for Reason. “In other words, never-smokers rarely become regular vapers, which suggests the CDC’s fears are misplaced, especially since there is no evidence that never-smokers who vape are therefore more likely to become smokers or that the rising popularity of e-cigarettes has given a boost to conventional cigarettes,” he continues.

Smoking is a bad habit. It’s unhealthy and will shorten your lifespan. But it’s also a habit a lot of people like. It’s hard to get people to quit. I wouldn’t go so far as to call vaping a good habit, but if it’s a better habit for people currently addicted smoking shouldn’t we be happy about that and not fighting the trend?

Yet that’s exactly what is happening. The CDC has put combatting vaping in their “best practices” guidelines, and the law which created BreatheND in North Dakota allows the group to follow those “best practices” even when they stray far from combating traditional tobacco use, as we found out when Rep. Mike Schatz requested a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s office earlier this year.

That’s too bad, because in doing so they actually seem to be working against the cause of public health.