Research & Commentary: New Study Finds Teens Vape Because of Flavoring, Not Nicotine

Published September 6, 2016

A new study authored by researchers at the University of Michigan and published in August in the online journal Tobacco Control presents data that falsify the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) claim “e-cigarettes can increase nicotine addiction among young people and may lead kids to try other tobacco products.”

The researchers identified subjects for the study by randomly selecting one-third of those questioned as part of the 2015 Monitoring the Future Survey, an annual survey of U.S. students. The subjects were then asked about whether they had ever used an “electronic vaporizer.” Those participants who had said they had used or were regularly using an electronic vaporizer were then asked the following: “The LAST TIME you used an electronic vaporizer such as an e-cigarette, what was in the mist you inhaled?” The participants were then given the ability to report one choice from a list of options that included “Nicotine,” “Marijuana or hash oil,” “Just flavouring,” “Other,” and “Don’t know.”

The study found only 34 percent of 12th graders, 32 percent of 10th graders, and 21 percent of 8th graders “had ever used a [vaporizer] in their life.” Of the students who reported using electronic cigarettes or vaporizers, “65–66% in each grade reported vaping ‘just [flavoring]’ at last use.” The percentage of participants using nicotine was about 20 percent at the 12th grade level, 20 percent at 10th grade, and 13 percent at the 8th grade level.

The authors noted the available research has often categorized both traditional cigarette users and users of e-cigarettes and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) as tobacco users, even though many ENDS users don’t consume tobacco products.

The evidence in this study shows there is a need to develop a more-insightful and scientifically accurate approach to examining those who use vaporizers and those who consume tobacco cigarettes. The authors say by joining tobacco and non-tobacco ENDS users together, the number of users are doubled in “estimates of tobacco prevalence in 12th grade as compared to estimates based solely on cigarette smoking.” The numbers triple for 8th and 10th grade respondents.

The authors conclude the presence of nicotine is a source of contention among policymakers and is “assumed by many to be the predominant substance that youth vape.” The authors have determined that “this assumption is not based on the scientific data.”

“Messages aimed at curbing vaporizer and e-cigarette use among youth may not be successful if these messages center around the dangers of nicotine, given that most youth who vape do not believe they are using nicotine,” said Richard Miech, a research professor at the Survey Research Center Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and a lead author of the study.

This is the latest study to examine the actual effects of e-cigarettes and ENDS on teenage smoking rates. A 2015 study examined the correlation between access to electronic cigarettes and teenage tobacco smoking rates. The study found for every 1 percentage point increase in e-cigarette use, there is a 0.65–0.83 percentage point drop in smoking rates amongst teens aged 14 to 18.

With the passage of FDA’s recent deeming regulations, which took effect August 8, the entire e-cigarette and ENDS industry will be negatively impacted by costly compliance measures. Policymakers should be aware of the evidence that has been and will be presented in the wake of the federal government’s overreaching ruling, much of which has and will expose problems in with rationale used by FDA. More importantly, everyone should understand the health benefits, including health care cost savings, tobacco harm reduction products, such as e-cigarettes and ENDS, can have on society. 

The following documents offer more research on e-cigarettes, U.S. teenagers’ cigarette use, and tobacco harm reduction.

Research & Commentary: Electronic Cigarettes 
Heartland Institute Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines electronic cigarettes, tobacco harm reduction, and various proposals to regulate e-cigarette use. E-cigarettes have become one of the most popular nicotine replacement products and a key building block in tobacco harm reduction strategies.

Nicotine Without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction
This report provides an update on the use of tobacco harm reduction strategies related to non-tobacco nicotine products, particularly e-cigarettes. The authors conclude for all the potential risks involved, harm reduction has significant potential to prevent death and disability caused by tobacco use and to hasten the nation’s progress toward a tobacco-free society. 

Research & Commentary: New CDC Report Finds Vaping Helps Smokers Quit
A new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found only 0.4 percent of the people who had never smoked tobacco in a CDC study group are current vapers, which the report defines as using a vaping device either every day or some days. The CDC report, the first of its kind, estimates e-cigarette use among U.S. adults using a nationally representative household survey. The report’s findings claim only 3.4 of adults who have never smoked have tried an e-cigarette; 12.6 percent of Americans have tried an e-cigarette; and fewer than 4 percent of the U.S. population are regular e-cigarette users.

Research & Commentary: Study Reports Health Benefits from E-cigarette Use
In June 2016, the British Medical Journal published a study that examined electronic cigarette use after 24 months. Finding a 40 percent disparity between smokers who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking and smokers who did not use e-cigarettes, the authors found, “[E]-cigarette use alone might support tobacco quitters remaining abstinent from smoking.” In thisResearch & Commentary, Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud argues the growing body of evidence suggests the Food and Drug Administration may have been too hasty in its May 2016 decision to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

E-Cigarettes Poised to Save Medicaid Billions
In a new report from State Budget Solutions, J. Scott Moody finds e-cigarette use could create significant savings for state governments, especially in their Medicaid programs: “As shown in this study, the potential savings to Medicaid significantly exceeds [sic] the state revenue raised from the cigarette excise tax and tobacco settlement payments by 87%. As such, the rational policy decision is to adopt a non-interventionist stance toward the evolution and adoption of the e-cig until hard evidence proves otherwise.”

Research & Commentary: How Do Electronic Cigarettes Affect Adolescent Smoking?–commentary-how-do-electronic-cigarettes-affect-adolescent-smoking?source=policybot 

In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Institute Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud discusses a 2015 Yale study by researchers who examined the causal impact of access to electronic cigarettes and their influence on teen smoking rates. The evidence shows access to electronic cigarettes reduces tobacco use among teens rather than increases it.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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