e-cigs now have teens smoking less tobacco than ever

Although you’d have a hard time telling it from the media coverage, this sounds like pretty good news to me. Cigarette smoking among teens is down to all time lows, and part of the reason seems to be the advent of e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes have surpassed traditional smoking in popularity among teens, the government’s annual drug use survey finds.

Even as tobacco smoking by teens dropped to new lows, use of e-cigarettes reached levels that surprised researchers. The findings marked the survey’s first attempt to measure the use of e-cigarettes by people that young.

Nearly 9 percent of eighth-graders said they’d used an e-cigarette in the previous month, while just 4 percent reported smoking a traditional cigarette, said the report being released Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health.

The obvious disclaimer on this data is that teenagers 17 and below shouldn’t be smoking anything, and if they are that is a failure of the parents, not the government. But reality intrudes, and we have to face up to the fact that the old ways have not entirely disappeared and there are still kids smoking. (As a bit of disclosure about the bad old days, the only Christmas present my dad gave me when I was sixteen was a carton of Marlboros. But that’s a story for another day.)

With that said, the numbers for other student groups are equally heartening. Only 14% of high school seniors reported smoking a traditional cigarette in the last month, while 17% had “vaped” an e-cigarette. It would be better to have them doing neither, but if you had to pick one, I’d take the option without the tar and the rest of the chemicals. Still, some of the “experts” can find cause to wring their hands.

“I worry that the tremendous progress that we’ve made over the last almost two decades in smoking could be reversed on us by the introduction of e-cigarettes,” said University of Michigan professor Lloyd Johnston, who leads the annual Monitoring the Future survey of more than 41,000 students.

Public education should be able to continue to drive down smoking rates, particularly among children. But in the meantime, having options such as this available should be seen as a a positive – or at least less bad – alternative. But still we have politicians such as Chris Christie in New Jersey and others next door in Pennsylvania who want to jack up sin tax rates on e-cigarettes to the same levels imposed on tobacco products. This seems self-defeating by definition unless all you’re actually interested in is socking away more tax dollars in the state coffers.

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