How Many Vapers Are There?

Dr. Brad Rodu estimates the number, based on recent CDC survey results

Dr. Brad Rodu
Dr. Brad Rodu

How many American vapers are there? The answer to that question depends a lot of who you ask, but Dr. Brad Rodu might have the most accurate estimate. He has taken a deep dive into the results of the 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), and has come up with some interesting numbers. He wrote about the topic in a recent blog entry.

The NHIS is conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and its data are used to make national smoking estimates. It is one of several surveys used by the various governmental health agencies.

Dr. Rodu is a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville, and holds an endowed chair in tobacco harm reduction. He is also a member of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the university. He has researched and written about tobacco use and tobacco harm reduction for 20 years, mostly about snus and other smokeless tobacco products.

Smoking rates continue to drop

Cigarette Smoking Decline

Though Rodu believes that this survey may underestimate the number of smokers in the country, the good news is that the number of smokers is declining. “In 2014 the number of Americans who smoke dropped below 40 million for the first time in the 50 years that the NHIS has provided smoking statistics,” he writes. “In 2015, that number declined further, to 36.5 million.” Those results match up with the other recent surveys.

Among adult smokers, the youngest group surveyed showed the largest decline. Between 2005 and 2015, smoking among 18- to 24-year-olds has dropped from 24.4 percent to just 13 percent. “This will eventually translate into significant public health gains,” says Rodu, “as lower smoking rates among young adults today will result in lower smoking-attributable disease and death rates in the future.”

Lots more ex-smokers are vapers than ever before

The total number of vapers declined between 2014 and 2015 by about seven percent. But that was mostly due to fewer smokers who also vape. “In the NHIS survey respondents were current smokers and/or vapers if they used products every day or some days,” explains Rodu. “In both years, 22-23 percent of current smokers vaped every day; the rest reported vaping, on average, about 7.7 days in the past month.”

The number of former smokers who vape jumped from 2014 to 2015 by 26 percent, to almost 2.5 million. Among that group, 66 percent vape daily. There were also about a million vapers that never smoked — though just 21 percent of those vape daily.

There you have it. There are about 3.5 million non-smoking adult American vapers. About 1.9 million of those vape daily.

There is no gateway from vaping to smoking

Closed Sign

Rodu doesn’t believe the number of ex-smoking vapers proves that vaping is causing the decline in smoking. But, he says, “the data fails to prove the claim that vaping is ‘renormalizing’ smoking.” In other words, even if vaping isn’t responsible for the huge recent drops in smoking rates, we definitely aren’t seeing a “gateway.”

“The inescapable fact,” writes Rodu, “is that e-cigarettes, used by, among others, 2.5 million former smokers, are not impeding the dramatic, welcome decline in cigarette smoking.”

Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.
  • I think its way higher, in the UK its estimated about 2.7 million but its more like 4 million… 3 years ago I could walk down the street and not see one other vapers, now in 2016 its every other person is vaping…

    • Jim McDonald

      I hope you’re right.