Here’s How Vaping Affects Cigarette Use

Rich Lowry says the recent campaign against vaping is ridiculous. After all, vaping is a lot better for you than smoking cigarettes:

About 11 million adults vape, and some percentage of them are former smokers or would be smoking in the absence of e-cigarettes. A robust study in the United Kingdom found that vaping is twice as effective as other common nicotine replacements in getting smokers to quit. The flavors, according to surveys of users, are a big draw for smokers quitting traditional cigarettes.

Anything that pushes e-cigarette users back into conventional smoking (now at a new low of 14 percent of adults) is bad for public health. It’s manifestly absurd to ban vaping products and leave cigarettes, including flavored cigarettes, on the market.

There’s no question that vaping is less harmful than cigarette smoking. No one debates that. It’s also true that vaping can help smokers quit cigarettes. No one debates that either.

As usual, though, the question is: how much? No one can tell you for sure, but here’s a chart that provides a hint:

Cigarette smoking has been steadily declining in the US since the ’60s. Vaping products started to take off in the US in 2013 and have increased their popularity every year since then. So if vaping were really making a serious dent in cigarette smoking, you’d expect to see the trendline for smoking bend downward starting a few years ago.

But you don’t. That doesn’t mean vaping has had no effect on adult cigarette smoking, but it does mean that the effect has probably been tiny at best. Now compare that to the rise in teen vaping:

For many years the big question about vaping was its net health impact. On the one hand, it helps smokers quit cigarettes. On the other hand, it gets teens hooked on nicotine. The net impact depends on which effect is bigger.

There’s no serious question about that anymore: vaping overwhelmingly acts as a way of getting teens addicted to nicotine and has only a tiny impact on cigarette smoking. This doesn’t automatically mean that vaping should be outlawed, but it’s the factual background for making a decision about what to do. If it were up to me, I’d make vaping capsules available via prescription only. That’s unquestionably a smallish inconvenience for some, but worth it if it stops the huge rise in teens developing lifelong nicotine addictions for the benefit of corporate profits.

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