CDC Survey Finds Record Low Number of Adult Cigarette Smokers as Adult Vaping Increases

Jeffrey A. Singer

When 14 academic public health experts wrote in the American Journal of Public Health in 2021 supporting e‑cigarettes as a powerful tobacco harm reduction tool, it mostly fell on deaf ears. San Francisco and other cities have since banned the sale of all vaping products, and several states, including California, have imposed bans on sales of flavored vaping products and, in some cases, the online sale of all vaping products.

Now The Hill reports preliminary survey results from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 11 percent of adults are tobacco smokers, down from 12.5 percent in 2021 and 2020. The survey also found that vaping among adults increased from 4.5 percent to 6 percent during the same period.

The survey finds teen and adolescent vaping is on the increase: roughly 14.1 percent of high schoolers and 3.3 percent of middle schoolers are vaping. This is occurring despite efforts by the Food and Drug Administration and several states to ban flavored vaping.

Bans on flavored vaping are rooted in the fact that teen vapers prefer the fruit, candy, or menthol flavors over the tobacco flavor. But e‑cigarette sales to those under 18 have been prohibited since 2016, so the teens are already tapping the black or grey market to vape. And while teen vaping has been increasing, teen tobacco smoking is at an all‐​time low.

Yet research shows that fruit or candy‐​flavored e‑cigarettes are not determinants of teen vapers moving on to tobacco. And a study published in the May 2021 issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research by researchers at Brown and Harvard Universities finds, “E‑cigarette use is largely concentrated among youth who share characteristics with smokers of the pre‐​vaping era, suggesting e‑cigarettes may have replaced cigarette smoking.” Dr. Natasha Sokol, one of the study’s authors, told Filter journalist Alex Norcia, “The decline in youth smoking really accelerated after the availability of e‑cigarettes.”

Meanwhile, efforts to reduce teen vaping deprive adult tobacco smokers of a proven harm‐​reduction strategy. It turns out that most adult tobacco smokers who wish to quit prefer flavored and menthol e‑cigarettes as more effective substitutes. The authors of the 2021 American Journal of Public Health article warned, “Policies intended to reduce adolescent vaping may also reduce adult smokers’ use of e‑cigarettes in quit attempts.”

The authors also wrote, “Because evidence indicates that e‑cigarette use can increase the odds of quitting smoking, many scientists, including this essay’s authors, encourage the health community, media, and policymakers to more carefully weigh vaping’s potential to reduce adult smoking‐​attributable mortality.

The CDC’s latest survey supports that advice.

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