New Survey Shows Both Youth Smoking and E-Cigarette Use Fell This Year

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 13, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The 2016 Monitoring the Future survey released today provides all-around good news about the nation’s fight to protect kids from tobacco addiction. The survey shows not only that the historic, decades-long decline in youth cigarette smoking continued this year, but also provides the first evidence that the dramatic rise in youth e-cigarette use may be starting to reverse. Youth use of cigars and hookah (water pipes) also fell.

It is especially good news that youth smoking continues to fall because cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in our country and kills nearly half a million Americans every year. Since peaking in 1996-1997, smoking rates have fallen by 71 percent among 12th graders (from 36.5 percent to 10.5 percent who smoke), by 84 percent among 10th graders (from 30.4 percent to 4.9 percent) and by 88 percent among 8th graders (from 21 percent to 2.6 percent). Smoking rates are at record lows among all three age groups. Millions of kids have been prevented from starting down a path that so often ends with devastating diseases and premature death.

Today’s survey shows that youth e-cigarette use declined significantly from 2015 to 2016, dropping from 16.3 percent to 12.5 percent among 12th graders. This is a promising turnaround after several surveys found a rapid rise in youth use of e-cigarettes in recent years. However, youth e-cigarette use remains disturbingly high and exceeds use of conventional cigarettes. As the Surgeon General’s report released last week concluded, e-cigarettes pose a serious threat to the health of young people.

It is important to be cautious in commenting on the significance of the data on e-cigarette use. The reported decline is promising, but it is too soon to know whether it is a long-term trend. It is also important not to overstate what the e-cigarette data say about the relationship between e-cigarette use and long-term smoking behavior. Just as the Surgeon General’s report last week stated that there is not yet enough data to conclude with any certainty whether e-cigarette use by youth serves as a gateway to increased smoking, today’s data do not permit any firm conclusions about whether e-cigarette use leads to an increase in smoking, a decline in smoking or neither.

This survey does show once again that we know how to win the fight against tobacco and create the first tobacco-free generation. It follows other recent surveys that found youth and adult smoking rates falling to record lows, with declines accelerating in recent years. If recent progress in reducing adult smoking continues, the United States would eliminate smoking by around 2035, according to a recent analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine.

These gains stem directly from implementing proven strategies to reduce tobacco use, especially at the federal level in recent years. Key actions have included a 62-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax in 2009, enactment of the 2009 law giving the FDA authority over tobacco products, enhanced coverage for tobacco cessation treatments under the Affordable Care Act, and unprecedented national media campaigns to reduce tobacco use (including campaigns by the CDC, the FDA and Truth Initiative).

States and localities have increased tobacco taxes, enacted smoke-free laws and, in some cases, funded effective tobacco prevention and cessation programs. California, Hawaii, and over 200 cities and counties have raised the tobacco sale age to 21.

The challenge now is to build on this progress and finish the job. It is especially critical that the incoming Congress and Trump Administration reject the inevitable efforts of the tobacco industry – the worst of the special interests – to reverse our progress. Most immediately, Congress must reject proposals, included in recent House appropriations bills, to slash funding for the CDC’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs by more than half and greatly weaken FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars, including many sweet-flavored products that have proven highly popular with kids.

It is within our reach to win the fight against tobacco, but only if elected officials put America’s kids and health before the special interests of the tobacco industry.

The Monitoring the Future survey has been conducted annually since 1975 by researchers at the University of Michigan and is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.