According to the results of an annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey of 22,000 students around the US, the number of middle and high school students using electronic cigarettes tripled between 2013 and 2014, and the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers has eclipsed the use of traditional cigarettes and all other tobacco products.
Anti-smoking advocates argue that the rise in the popularity of e-cigarettes stems in part from aggressive, largely unregulated marketing campaigns. But advocates of e-cigarettes say the worries expressed by public health officials are premature and not backed up by data.
The use of conventional cigarettes sank to its lowest levels in years. According to CDC, 9.2% of high school students and 2.5% of middle school students reported smoking a cigarette over the past month.
Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association said there’s no definitive evidence e-cigarettes are a “gateway” to using traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products. On the contrary, many teens who have tried e-cigarettes in the past already were smokers.
“We need to not lose perspective about the potential these products have to eliminate harm from combusted tobacco,” she said. “I suspect teens experiment with a lot of things. And I suspect anytime someone is not smoking a cigarette, that’s a good thing.”
“The CDC should really be jumping for joy at the fact that smoking rates are declining,” added Michael Siegel, a professor and tobacco control specialist at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “This is a huge success. Instead, they are using this as another opportunity to demonize e-cigarettes.”
Siegel said he agrees that minors shouldn’t have access to any tobacco product. But he said CDC numbers suggest that rather than serving as a gateway to cigarette smoking, e-cigarette use might be diverting teens from traditional cigarettes [and that’s] a good thing,” he said.