Preliminary results from the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey show a massive decline in youth vaping since 2020. The percentage of high school students reporting vaping in the past 30 days has only been this low one other year since 2013. The data were in a report published today by scientists from the CDC and FDA.
High school past-30 day vaping fell from 19.6 percent in 2020 to just 11.3 percent this year—a 42.3 percent decline. That’s on top of last year’s results, which represented a 28.7 percent decline over 2019’s high school past-30 day result.
Middle school vaping fell to 2.8 percent this year from 4.7 percent in 2020—a 40.4 percent decline. Middle school past 30-day vaping in 2020 fell 55.2 percent from 2019.
Two years in a row of record declines should be exciting, but the FDA’s public messaging was predictably glum. The survey was done online, they say—not in classrooms, as in previous years—as though a teacher hovering over a student answering CDC survey questions would inspire more truthful answers. Further, the FDA said, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many students from interacting at and after school, which probably prevented a lot of social vaping.
There’s probably some truth to that, and it may be that vaping numbers will increase in next year’s survey. But the frivolous experimentation that grew into a national fad in 2018-19 also doesn’t represent the life-and-death struggle with addiction portrayed by anti-vaping organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Hopefully, after two years of a real epidemic with real deaths, the public will be less concerned that a subset of teenagers might occasionally take a puff of a friend’s vape at a party.
The federal agencies also played up the fact that almost 85 percent of students who vape used flavored products. This factoid doesn’t mean anything, and it never has. All people who vape overwhelmingly prefer non-tobacco flavors. But that doesn’t mean they won’t vape if flavors aren’t available.
In recent weeks, the FDA has issued marketing denials to hundreds of vaping manufacturers that submitted Premarket Tobacco Applications (PMTAs) for flavored products. The agency says that sellers of flavored products must provide extraordinary evidence to justify FDA permission to sell them.
“The FDA continues to take action against those who sell or target e-cigarettes and eliquids to kids, as seen just this year by the denial of more than one million premarket applications for flavored electronic nicotine delivery system products,” said FDA Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller today in a statement. “It is critical that these products come off the market and out of the hands of our nation’s youth.”
Most of the products forced off the legal market by the FDA are bottled e-liquids, sold by small manufacturers. But just 7.5 percent of high school students who vape (or 0.7 percent of all surveyed high school students) reported using mods and tanks.
The most popular products among students of all ages were disposables (53.7 percent) and prefilled pods (28.7 percent). By far the most popular brand listed is the gray market Puff Bar, named by 26.8 percent of users. Vuse was in second place at 10.5 percent, with JUUL finishing a weak fourth at 6.8 percent.
Many observers believe the FDA was waiting to see these survey results before authorizing vaping products sold by the wealthy companies able to afford high-quality PMTAs. Those products include JUUL and Vuse.
Another stated FDA concern is that a high percentage of school-aged users vape frequently—daily, or more than 20 days a month. The agency is so concerned that it lied about the number of daily vapers in its social media messaging.
“In 2021, an est. 11.3% of high school students and 2.8% of middle school students reported current e-cigarette use. 1 in 4 high school students reported daily use,” said an FDA Center for Tobacco Products tweet. But that isn’t true.
What the agency should have said was that one in four of the students who reported vaping used e-cigarettes daily. It’s a common rhetorical trick—used frequently by federal agencies and tobacco control groups like Truth Initiative—to express percentages of percentages in a way to make the reader believe the final number is larger than it is. But in this case, the FDA lied outright.
Daily use among high school students was 27.6 percent of the students who reported vaping—3.1 percent of all high school students. And among middle school students, 0.2 percent of all those surveyed reported daily vaping in 2021.
As in 2020, the CDC and FDA did not report preliminary smoking data.