The compiled data indicated that daily smoking rates among 12th-grade boys rose by 4.9% a year between 1991 and 1998, but fell by 8% a year between 1998 and 2006, and by 1.6% from 2006 to 2012. Moreover, there was a 17% annual decline between 2012 and 2019, with overall, daily smoking among 12th-graders dropping to about 2% by 2019. This positive pattern was consistent amongst boys and girls in all grades and for both black and white teens.
“This is an astoundingly low rate, and our goal from a public health perspective should be to keep smoking at this rate or lower,” said study co-author David Levy, a professor of oncology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The researchers observed a similar drop in teen use of cigars and cigarillos, smokeless tobacco. Lead study author Rafael Meza said that while the drop in tobacco use is encouraging, the increase in vaping is concerning. “While the increases in e-cigarettes are indeed concerning and is something we need to address and reverse, the decreases in other tobacco products, in particular, cigarettes — the most concerning form of tobacco use — are accelerating.”
“Gateway Theory” debunked once more
He added that clearly the infamous “Gateway Theory” or concern that the uptake of vaping could act as a gateway to smoking, was unfounded. “The across-the-board decline in cigarette smoking is something to highlight and celebrate, and it “suggests that it’s a general pattern, that kids are just not into smoking anymore.”
“But, in contrast, what we found is that the decline in smoking has accelerated,” Meza said. “So I think the good news is that the rapid increase in e-cigarette use has not yet resulted in a reversal of the decreasing trends of cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use, and if anything, those trends have accelerated.”
Similar patterns highlighted by other studies
Similarly, the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) indicated that e-cigarette use amongst teens dropped by a third. Carried out between January 16th and March 16th, the school-based survey indicated that 19.6% of high school students (3.02 million) reported e-cigarette use, down from 27.5% (4.11 million) in 2019. Amongst middle school students the figure dropped aswell, from 10.5% (1.24 million) in 2019, to 4.7% (550 000).
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