The combustible case for e-cigarettes

April 20, 2015

In what Bizarro world could an explosion in teen e-cigarette use be construed as a good thing?

Ours, as it turns out.

As this Reuters graphic shows, according to a study just released by the Centers for Disease Control, between 2011 and 2014 the percentage of high school students who had smoked a cigarette in the prior 30 days dropped from 15.8 percent to 9.2 percent, a record low.

TeenTobacco042015-620

Despite this remarkable 42 percent drop in cigarette use, overall tobacco consumption remained essentially flat, with 24.6 percent of high schoolers—an estimated 3.72 million kids—having smoked within the past month.  The principal reason for this disconnect is the rise of e-cigarettes, the use of which increased by nearly an order of magnitude, from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 13.4 percent in 2014.

Besides (quite reasonably) objecting to teen tobacco use in any form, the CDC’s focus appears to rest on fears that e-cigarette use will serve as a gateway to traditional smoking, but as New York Times columnist Joe Nocera points out, the CDC’s own data refutes that logic.

Nocera sees cause for celebration in the prospect of e-cigarettes extinguishing smoking: “On the scale of potential harms, e-cigarettes aren’t even in the same ballpark as combustible cigarettes. They have the potential to save millions of lives if smokers could be convinced to switch—which is what the C.D.C. ought to be stressing.”

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