A new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms U.S. teenagers and pre-adolescents are experimenting with e-cigarettes in dramatically greater numbers. But mentioned almost as an afterthought in the scare pieces presented as public health stories: fewer kids are smoking deadly real cigarettes than ever before.
E-cigarette use by students in junior high and high school tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to federal data -- with 13 percent of high school students reporting having used e-cigarettes. That's a lot of kids -- even more than smoke real cigarettes.
The traditional media erupted with stories of this dangerous new trend, how nicotine damages the adolescent brain, etc., etc.
But the bigger story: in the same report, the rate of cigarette smoking among high school students fell by almost half, from 16% to 9%. Use of cigars and pipes also fell.
Kids seemed clearly to be choosing e-cigarettes over smoking: the largest drop in cigarette smoking (25%) came in 2013-2014, when e-cigarette use exploded.
That trend blows smoke in the face of the fear-mongers in the public health community who have demonized e-cigarettes since FDA failed to ban them shortly after their introduction. Since then the Feds and their nonprofit allies have waged what sometimes seems like a "Reefer Madness"-style propaganda campaign against e-cigarettes, with shrill warnings outpacing evidence of health risks.
“This is a really bad thing,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., told the New York Times. “This is another generation being hooked by the tobacco industry. It makes me angry.”
FDA's tobacco division director Mitch Zeller warned "the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened."
But these emotional responses are premature, since no one knows if these kids will ever graduate from e-cigarettes to real cigarettes. So far, it looks like exactly the opposite is happening.
Rather than being "a really bad thing," it might be kids experimenting with a new, edgy but relatively safe product that by preventing them from starting a lifetime of smoking while satisfying their need for rebellion, will eventually prove to be a tremendous boon to public health in coming decades.
But the governmental health establishment (CDC, NIH, FDA, etc.) won't stomach "losing" to the tobacco industry in such an ironic way. By clinging to a utopian vision of no one anywhere consuming nicotine ever (or somehow achieving a legal ban), they fail at their most basic duty to the U.S. taxpaying public: to objectively study e-cigarettes' safety and provide the data so that consumers and policymakers can make informed, rational decisions.
Instead, CDC misleadingly lists e-cigarettes in its press release in the same breath as cigarettes and hookahs as "nicotine products." CDC knows real tobacco smoke must be far more deadly -- killing 480,000 in the U.S. every year -- but cynically tries to reinforce the public's unfounded perception that e-cigarettes are just as dangerous:
In 2014, the products most commonly used by high school students were e-cigarettes (13.4 percent), hookah (9.4 percent), cigarettes (9.2 percent), cigars (8.2 percent), smokeless tobacco (5.5 percent), snus (1.9 percent) and pipes (1.5 percent).
E-cigarettes are a potentially hazardous consumer product that should be regulated and studied, with its real risks reported objectively based on real research. But NIH and CDC's political agendas won't permit that kind of rational response. Instead, data showing kids are smoking less than ever -- the best possible public health news imaginable -- gets spun as a health crisis. When the CDC director gets angry, the public gets propaganda we might as well start calling "Vaper Madness."