'Grassroots' Anti-vaping Efforts Pushing People Back to Cigarettes

By Elizabeth Sheld
June 03, 2020

New data from tobacco company Altria reveals that older vapers are returning to their deadly cigarette habit. The switch follows a months long media ambush driven by well-funded “grassroots” anti-vaping efforts. States began regulating retail e-cigarette outlets, often banning vape devices, making the products difficult to access.

Older smokers who had switched to e-cigarettes are turning back to traditional cigarettes because of negative news coverage and regulatory crackdowns on vaping, Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. said Thursday.

“Over the last several months, we’ve observed an increase in the number of age 50 and older smokers in the cigarette category,” CEO Billy Gifford told investors on Altria’s first-quarter earnings conference call. “We believe these smokers had previously switched to e-vapor products, but recently returned to cigarettes due to negative publicity and regulatory and legislative developments in the e-vapor category.”

New laws banning the sale of all e-cigarette products went into effect a few weeks ago in New York state. While consumers can still use vape products legally, it is illegal for stores to sell them.

“You can walk in to any gas station in New York State and you can get yourself a pack of Newport’s Campbell’s Marlboro’s, but you can’t get your favorite vape flavor today,” said Mike Kruger, owner of an e-cigarette retail shop.

New York follows other states and localities like Massachusetts, Oakland, California and Palo Alto, California which have some degree of an e-cigarette ban but still sell highly taxed combustible tobacco. Michigan’s ban is currently tied up in the courts.

An outbreak last fall of a mysterious lung disease that left 57 people dead and injured more than 2,500 was accompanied by sensational media coverage blaming, without evidence, nicotine-based e-cigarettes. Well-funded advocacy groups masquerading as concerned parents used the mysterious disease to argue that not only did nicotine-based vaping systems cause E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) but that flavors were luring teens to the dangerous products.

An analysis of the outbreak was completed by public health agencies after the height of the outbreak and found EVALI was caused by illegal or counterfeit THC products and not nicotine-based e-cigarettes.

“The latest national and state findings suggest products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources (e.g. friends, family members, illicit dealers), are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak,” the CDC said in a statement.

Unfortunately, the damage to the public consciousness had been done and states continued their march to ban some or all nicotine e-cigarettes under the banner of protecting teen users. But the data suggesting there was or is an “epidemic” of teen e-cigarette use does not show any such thing.

The Center for Disease Control’s study, “Notes from the Field: Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Any Tobacco Product Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2011–2018” states:

Among high school students, current e-cigarette use increased from 1.5% (220,000 students) in 2011 to 20.8% (3.05 million students) in 2018 (p<0.001) (Figure). During 2017–2018, current e-cigarette use increased by 78% (from 11.7% to 20.8%, p<0.001). The proportion of current e-cigarette users who reported use on ≥20 of the past 30 days increased from 20.0% in 2017 to 27.7% in 2018 (p = 0.008). Among high school students, during 2017–2018, current use of any flavored e-cigarettes increased among current e-cigarette users (from 60.9% to 67.8%, p = 0.02); current use of menthol- or mint-flavored e-cigarettes increased among all current e-cigarette users (from 42.3% to 51.2%, p = 0.04) and current exclusive e-cigarette users (from 21.4% to 38.1%, p = 0.002).

However, as Julie Gunlock writes at the Independent Women’s Forum, “the 78 percent figure is only possible because the CDC defines ‘current e-cigarette use,’ as any teen who vaped once in a 30-day period. Vaping once, twice, even five times a month does not make one a habitual e-cigarette user.”

The real number of habitual high school teen vapers is much lower at about 5.7%. Additionally, the number of high schoolers using dangerous combustible tobacco cigarettes is at an all-time low.

All these developments leave adults who use e-cigarettes to abstain from deadly combustible tobacco out in the cold. In the U.S., cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year. E-cigarettes are a critical and effective tool for smokers to quit their combustible tobacco habit and vaping is 95% safer than using cigarettes as a nicotine delivery system.

Combustible tobacco use has been steadily trending downwards. In the last 5 years, the rate of tobacco use among adults has dropped 22 percent and among youth the drop is even more dramatic: 44 percent. But now that state and federal regulations have made it harder for people to quit and for quitters to continue their path of abstention, those numbers might very well begin to rise.

Elizabeth Sheld is the senior news editor at American Greatness and author of the “Morning Greatness” news update. She is a veteran political strategist and pollster who has worked on campaigns and public interest affairs. Liz has written at Breitbart and The Federalist, as well as at PJ Media, where she wrote "The Morning Briefing." In her spare time, she shoots sporting clays and watches documentaries. Elizabeth quit smoking with Cuttwood Vapor’s Unicorn Milk.

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