matrix morpheus vape meme - vaping isn't a gateway drug

One of the biggest attacks on vaping in the past few years, whether from governments, media, or nicotine prohibition advocacy groups, has been that youth e-cigarette use will lead to teens to start smoking or doing other drugs.

The "Monitoring the Future" survey from the University of Michigan has been surveying middle and high school students since 1975. The group conducting the survey, released some initial data in the form of a press release which will be published in January in the New England Journal of Medicine.

From AP News:

The federally funded survey released Monday is conducted by University of Michigan researchers and has been operating since 1975. This year’s findings are based on responses from about 45,000 students in grades 8, 10 and 12 in schools across the country. It found 1 in 5 high school seniors reported having vaped nicotine in the previous month.

After vaping and alcohol, the most common thing teens use is marijuana, the survey found. About 1 in 4 students said they’d used marijuana at least once in the past year. It was more common in older kids — about 1 in 17 high school seniors said they use marijuana every day.

Overall, marijuana smoking is about the same level as it was the past few years. Vaping of marijuana rose, however.

More teens, however, are saying no to lots of other substances. Usage of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, heroin and opioid pills all declined.

line graph showing any usage of cigarettes or illicit drugs in the last 30 days
any use in the past 30 days

Since "epidemic" youth vaping has been the hot topic for at least two or three years now, wouldn't we have expected to see a positive correlation between e-cigarette usage and smoking as well as drug use by now instead of a steady decline?

From the "Monitoring the Future" survey about "nicotine" usage:

The percent of 12th grade students who reported use of nicotine in the past 30 days significantly increased to 28.5% in 2018 from 23.7% in 2017.  Nicotine use is indicated by any use of cigarettes, large cigars, flavored or regular small cigars, hookah, smokeless tobacco, or a vaping device with nicotine.  

This increase was driven entirely by vaping.  Use of each of the other tobacco products was slightly down in 2018, although none of these decreases were statistically significant.  

“Vaping is reversing hard-fought declines in the number of adolescents who use nicotine,” said Richard Miech, the lead author and principal investigator of the study.“These results suggest that vaping is leading youth into nicotine use and nicotine addiction, not away from it.”


Cigarette smoking by teens has been declining for two decades, a decline that showed some interruption in 2018.  No significant decline occurred for 8th and 10th grade students in 2018.  A decline did take place for 12th grade students, consistent with a cohort effect still working its way up the age spectrum.

A 5% increase in nicotine usage among youth is pretty significant. but smoking is down and drug usage seems to be declining or flat.

Did anyone notice when the war on smoking transitioned to the war on nicotine usage?

Even the rhetoric has shifted from e-cigarettes are "just as bad" or "we don't know the long term effects" to now just saying "nicotine effects the developing brain in adolescents."

The most common anti-vaping tactic lately is confusing and conflating language to mislead people by lumping vapes in with smoking by characterizing the devices as tobacco products. Classifying vapes as tobacco products, regardless of actual tobacco content, is the basis for regulating vaping with laws designed to decrease smoking and negative health outcomes in the United States.

From Reason Magazine:

Scott Gottlieb, the head of the FDA, acknowledges that "there's a component in there of kids who are using e-cigarettes in lieu of combustible tobacco and otherwise would have used the combustible tobacco." But he adds that "from our standpoint, that's a hard justification for us to use as a public health justification when our mandate is no child should be using a tobacco product." Under the heading of "tobacco product," he includes e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and do not burn anything.

In other words, even if e-cigarettes have led to less smoking among teenagers, meaning less tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in decades to come, the FDA sees its mission as fighting that trend, even if it results in more tobacco-related morbidity and mortality. That's leaving aside the impact that the FDA's e-cigarette restrictions will have on adult smokers who are interested in switching to vaping or have already done so, some of whom will be deterred or backslide now that the flavors they prefer are harder to get. Somehow the FDA sees itself as obligated to attack public health in order to promote it.

Data May Also Indicate a Decline in Real World Social Activity

AP article continues:

One leading theory is that kids today are staying home and communicating on smartphones rather than hanging out and smoking, drinking or trying drugs.

“Drug experimentation is a group activity,” Volkow said.

What about vaping? “Vaping mostly is an individual activity,” said David Jernigan, a Boston University researcher who tracks alcohol use.

The data indicates that young people hanging out together has a far greater correlation with smoking, drug and alcohol use than vaping. 

Perhaps the government should consider issuing every teen a smartphone and regulating in person social activities to further reduce unwanted behaviors in the nation's youth.