Announcing the results of its annual Monitoring the Future survey, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) ignored the good news about the continued low rates of teenage smoking and binge drinking, and instead chose to focus on occasional teen e-cigarette usage to support FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s epidemic narrative.
The word “smoking” appears just once in the three-page NIDA press release. “Vaping,” “vape,” “e-cigarette,” or “JUUL” appear a total of 40 times, driving home the agency’s message that the country is facing a public health threat from smoke-free vaping.
The press release — which is what nearly all reporters will use to write the stories that Americans will read about the Monitoring the Future results — is more than 80 percent devoted to vaping (of nicotine and marijuana; both kinds of vape pens). The last four small paragraphs cover all other drug use, including cigarettes and alcohol, the substances teens use that most often turn into lifelong addictions and lead to disease and death.
“Increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest ever recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the U.S.,” said the press release. “The percentage of 12th grade students who reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled, rising from 11% to 21%.”
The results confirm the preliminary past-30-day vaping results from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey that Gottlieb trumpeted as proof that vaping is leading to a “new generation” of nicotine-addicted youth. “No child should use any tobacco product,” says Gottlieb, “including e-cigarettes.”
Monitoring the Future is an annual survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students, performed by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. The survey is commissioned by NIDA, which is part of the federal National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In a live press conference, NIDA Director Nora Volkow and Monitoring the Future principal investigator Richard Miech emphasized the dangers of nicotine addiction leading to other drug use, and the possibility that vaping could be a gateway to smoking. Miech said he knew of at least 20 studies that show “kids who’ve never smoked a cigarette in their lifetimes” moving from vaping to smoking.
In fact, Miech has been an author on at least two of those studies. In one he declared that vaping is a “one-way bridge” to smoking, basing his judgement on what Michael Siegel famously showed to be just four teenagers who had moved from vaping to smoking.
The mythical gateway doesn’t exist in real life. The Monitoring the Future smoking numbers continue to show — as do all other surveys of youth smoking — that cigarettes are simply not popular among teenagers anymore. Just 3.6 percent of 12th graders smoke daily now. That number was almost three times higher in 2011, when vaping began to take hold in the United States, and it was six times higher in 1997.
Miech and Volkow are determined to create a crisis out of teen experimentation with vaping. They might just get their way too. If Gottlieb uses the past-30-day-use standard to restrict sales and ban vaping flavors, we may see teen smoking rise again. And if we do, care to guess what’ll get the blame?