It sounds like a public health miracle.
In 2007, nearly a quarter (23.6%) of cigarette smokers in Massachusetts were between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2017, that number had fallen by 68.6%. Only 7.4% of cigarette users in Bay State were under 25 – a record high.
But then, youth smoking started to rebound, rising to 10% in 2018 before leveling off above previous lows. A state that had led the way in reducing smoking among young people is suddenly being left behind as rates in other states continue to fall.
Massachusetts has launched a war on vaping.
The year 2007, when Bay State’s numbers began to decline, is also the year that e-cigarettes were first introduced to the US market. But around 2014, Massachusetts municipalities began enacting a patchwork of local flavor bans. In 2019, a statewide ban on flavored vapors came into effect, followed in 2020 by a ban on flavored cigarettes – including menthol.
While there are many variables that go into personal choices and purchasing decisions, especially when it comes to nicotine products, I believe there are some notable numbers in this data. In the years since the emergence of the e-cigarette market, smoking rates among young adults nationwide have fallen to historically low levels and in most states they remain there. This is why the Massachusetts figures are instructive.
Most notably, in 46 states and Washington, DC, smoking rates among current smokers aged 18 to 24 have fallen even more significantly in the decade since the emergence of the e-cigarette market than in the last decade. 10 years following the Framework Settlement Agreements. This also runs counter to the false premise, unfortunately spread by so-called public health advocates, that youth vaping leads to youth smoking.
In a perfect world where no one smoked, drank, or used recreational drugs, the goal of ending all nicotine use might make sense. This is the “ban” strategy. You can ask Al Capone how it worked. Thousands of years of human behavior have shown that some people will engage in risky behavior, no matter what the government says.
Therefore, a more sensible approach to public health, particularly involving young people, might be to raise the bar for very high risk behaviors (such as smoking traditional cigarettes) while allowing controlled access to low risk products, like vaping and heat burning tobacco products. This is called the “harm reduction” strategy.
Unfortunately, since then, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrongly declared a “2018 youth vaping epidemic,” tobacco harm reduction is on the defense. In fact, proponents of safer alternatives to tobacco are constantly battling a barrage of disinformation with anti-vapers based on denied claims about popcorn lung and formaldehyde.
Studies have found similar results in local flavor bans. For example, in April 2018, San Francisco banned the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes. This would be followed by a total ban on steam products in 2020. An April 2020 study in Addictive Behavior Reports examined the impact of the San Francisco flavor ban on young adults by polling a sample of elderly residents. from 18 to 34 years old. While the ban did have an effect on lowering vaping rates, the authors noted “a significant increase in smoking” among participants aged 18 to 24. Worse yet, smoking rates among young people actually increased as a result of the ban.
When it comes to banning vaping because it is a gateway to smoking, there is no substantial data from CDC population surveys to conclude that e-cigarette use by young people leads to smoking. In 2017, among American high school students, 42.2% said they had ever tried an electronic cigarette and only 28.9% said they had ever tried a combustible cigarette. In 2018, among current adult smokers in the United States, only 13.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24. In 2019, this figure fell further to 11.9%.
Despite the rhetoric, it is evident that the emergence of tobacco harm reduction products such as electronic cigarettes has helped reduce smoking among young adults. It is time for policy makers to embrace the role of tobacco harm reduction and actually protect public health rather than spitting out false information.
Lindsey Stroud is a policy analyst with the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, director and creator of Tobacco Harm Reduction 101 (thr101.org), and a board member of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA). She wrote this for InsideSources.com.