UK study involving 60,000 teens shows less than 0.5% become daily vapers

When public health agencies in the United States begin sounding the proverbial alarm over allegations that teen vaping has somehow become a national epidemic, other nations around the world tend to listen. The same can be said when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consistently makes claims that vaping is a gateway to future smoking addiction among teens.

Public health officials in the United Kingdom appear to have been curious if the same things were occurring across the pond.  So, a group of researchers led by Professor Linda Bauld of the University of Stirling set out to uncover the facts.

To be clear, the federal public health agencies of the United States and Great Britain have vastly divergent points of view when it comes to vaping.  For example, the UK’s Public Health England (PHE) published documented research as far back as 2015 indicating that electronic cigarettes are up to 95% less harmful than smoking.  E-cigs are also openly endorsed and promoted by UK public health officials as a smoking cessation tool.

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Meanwhile, the American counterpart to PHE - the U.S. Food and Drug Administration– has never officially recognized or validated the UK’s 2015 research nor does it officially endorse vaping as a stop smoking tool.  The farthest the FDA will go is to admit that e-cigs may be useful for “tobacco harm reduction.” 

There are other differences of opinion, too.  A significant point of contention revolves around how each nation defines a “teen vaper.”  In the United States, FDA scientists usually make no differentiation between a youngster who may have experimented once or twice with an e-cig and an older 17-year teenager who vapes every day.   UK scientists, on the other hand, tend to pay closer attention to these types of details. 

And these details matter, especially when a federal public health agency like the FDA is making outlandish claims that teen vaping is now a national epidemic.  Details matter even more when these same officials are implementing a series of regulatory actions on the American vaping industry that are so severe that they threaten its very existence.

Overview of the teen vaping study

The University of Stirling paper is entitled Young People's Use of E-Cigarettes across the United Kingdom: Findings from Five Surveys 2015-2017 (NCBI).  Dr. Bauld and her research team began by compiling extensive data collected from over 60,000 teenagers ages 11 to 16 residing throughout Great Britain and Scotland.  Surveys conducted by five highly reputable third-parties include “(t)he Youth Tobacco Policy Survey; the Schools Health Research Network Wales survey; two Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Smokefree Great Britain-Youth Surveys; and the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey.”  What the Bauld team discovered includes the following highlights.

  • 11% to 20% of teen respondents self-identified as “ever smokers,” meaning that they had tried a combustible tobacco cigarette at least once in their young lives.
  • Comparatively, 7% to 18% of respondents self-identified as “ever vapers.”
  • 1% to 4% self-identified as “regular smokers,” meaning that they had histories of smoking combustible tobacco products at least once per week.
  • Comparatively, 1% to 3% of respondents self-identified as “regular vapers.”
  • Of the 80% to 89% who self-identified as “never smokers,” only 0.1% to 0.5% (one-tenth to one-half of a percentage point) also self-identified as “regular vapers.”

According to the University of Stirling report, recent claims by the FDA regarding both the gateway theory and an alleged “epidemic” rise in teen vaping are grossly exaggerated at minimum and outright false at maximum.  In an interview with The UK news organization The Telegraph, Dr. Lind Bauld states, “Our analysis of the latest surveys from all parts of the United Kingdom, involving thousands of teenagers shows clearly that for those teens who don't smoke, e-cigg experimentation is simply not translating into regular use."

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