Commentary

There Isn’t a Teen E-Cigarette Epidemic

E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking and any federal e-cigarette policies should focus on how to save lives and improve public health.

Last month, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to reverse his decision to delay implementation of draconian new federal regulations that many observers believe would be a de facto ban on the products. While Sen. Schumer claims the new regulations would treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products, most observers believe the FDA regulations would treat vapor products more harshly than traditional cigarettes, with as many as three million new vapor products being banned while allowing real cigarettes to be sold the same as they always have been.

Sen.Schumer’s letter to Gottlieb indicated he had “grave concern about the exposure of the nation’s youth to harmful tobacco and e-cigarette products.” Schumer suggests that an epidemic of minors using e-cigarettes demands a strong government response.

This comes across as attempting to manufacture a crisis out of thin air. First, government-funded surveys that regulators rely upon to monitor youth usage and experimentation with tobacco and other substances.—both the Monitoring the Future survey and National Youth Tobacco survey —show a 20 percent reduction in both experimentation and “current” use of e-cigarettes in 2016 compared with previous years.

Additionally, as e-cigarettes and other vapor products increased in popularity, it should be noted that the youth smoking rates have declined precipitously, including New York. The simple reality is that vapor products are much safer than tobacco cigarettes. Both Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, which have reviewed the latest scientific data, concluded that e-cigarettes are 95 percent safer than combustible tobacco cigarettes.

Countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand are embracing the products that are helping millions quit smoking, while some in the U.S. are resistant to change and strangely want to continue along the same “quit or die” approach that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will result in over 450,000 premature American deaths every year.

Writing in Harm Reduction Journal, Doctors Riccardo Polosa, Christopher Russell, Joel Nitzken and Konstantinos Farsalinos objectively considered the government data in the same way others have evaluated the data for cigarettes and determined that “e-cigarette use among U.S. youth is either infrequent or experimental and negligible among never-smoking youth.”

The Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse within the U.S. Department of Health determined that only 0.7 percent of teens were regular users of e-cigarettes. The U.S. government’s National Youth Tobacco Survey determined that 0.6 percent of middle school students and 2.5 percent of high school students were frequent users. The New York Department of Health released data last March demonstrating that, while teen smoking was decreasing at a rate of about 1.25 percent from 2000 to 2012, teen smoking has been declining at a rate of about 2 percent a year since then.

The researchers also highlight relevant information that most teens who experiment with or use vapor products are already smokers, and of the teens experimenting most have used nicotine-free products. This isn’t emblematic of a crisis but demonstrates that teens are making better health choices.

Finally, it’s important to realize that it is already illegal in all 50 states to sell e-cigarettes to minors — those under the age of 18. And in New York City, which Sen. Schumer specifically cites, and many other big cities, sales to anyone under age 21 are illegal. E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking and any federal e-cigarette policies promoted by Sen. Schumer or others should focus on how to save lives and improve public health.