Thursday, October 19, 2017

New Vaping Insights Based on FDA’s PATH Survey 2013-2014

Analyzing data from the baseline 2013-14 FDA-funded Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, my economist colleague Dr. Nantaporn Plurphanswat and I have produced a comprehensive study of e-cigarette use in the United States.  The research appears in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research (abstract here).

The standard vaping definition has two components: participants must have regularly vaped AND now vape every day or some days.  Using this definition, we estimate that there were 5.5 million current e-cigarette users (2.4% of the U.S. population), of which 2.3 million used them daily and 3.2 million used them some days.

However, there are 7.4 million participants who have NOT “regularly vaped” but report that they use e-cigs every day or some days.  It is important to count them too, and to distinguish them from current users, so we call them “e-cigarette triers,” the vast majority of whom (95%) use them some days.  The total of current users and triers is 12.9 million (or about 5.6% of the population).

(In a recent blog entry (here) I estimated that there were 8.9 million U.S. vapers in 2014, based on the National Health Interview Survey [NHIS].  The fact that the NHIS does not collect data on “regular” vaping likely accounts for the difference with our new PATH-based 12.9 million estimate.)

The figure above shows that the vast majority of every day current vapers were either current smokers (47%) or former smokers (46%).  In contrast, most some day vapers and all e-cigarette triers were current smokers, and the percentage of never smokers was higher in these groups (discussed below). 

PATH also collected more detailed cigarette smoking information than did NHIS.  In our new article we note that we use a similar “…classification strategy…for estimates of cigarette smoking. The number of current smokers in PATH was 41.5 million, and 80% were daily smokers, which is consistent with the 2014 NHIS.  However, there were also 7.1 million cigarette triers, who are distinguished by being every day or some day smokers who had not consumed 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.  Triers do not fit the traditional definition of current smokers, so we have included them as a subset of ‘never-smokers’ for comparison with NHIS surveys, where they would have been classified as never-smokers by answering ‘no’ to the 100-cigarette question and not being asked about every or some day smoking. This is an indication that a substantial number of American smokers may have been misclassified as never-smokers in previous national surveys.”

These details illuminate critical characteristics of both vapers and smokers.  For example, as shown the chart at left, the vast majority of vapers who never smoked” according to the NHIS definition are actually current or former cigarette triers.  Only a small fraction (7-11%) have never tried cigarettes.  This finding refutes the common claim that vaping attracts never smokers.

Other vaping insights gleaned from the PATH survey will be discussed in a future post.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

“Deception or Evasion” by FDA CTP & National Cancer Institute Regarding Smokeless Tobacco?

“A majority of adults do not think smokeless tobacco is less harmful than cigarettes,” according to a study by the FDA Center for Tobacco Products and the Tobacco Control Research Branch of National Cancer Institute (abstract here). 

Sheri P. Feirman and colleagues analyzed responses to a question in the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), 2012, 2014, and 2015: “Do you believe that some smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and snuff, are less harmful than cigarettes?” 

Do You Believe that Some Smokeless Tobacco Products…Are Less Harmful Than Cigarettes?
Don’t Know17.1%15.9%22.2%

Simply put, only 9 to 12% of Americans correctly believe that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than cigarettes.

In a PubMed Commons commentary on this study, David Sweanor and I note:

“The article failed to specify that the correct answer [to the question] is:  ‘Yes, smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than cigarettes.’  The article instead focuses on the majority of participants who inaccurately answered ‘No’ or ‘Don’t Know,’ which demonstrates the misperception fostered by an effective ‘quarantine’ of truthful risk information by federal agencies (Kozlowski and Sweanor, 2016).

“Decades of epidemiologic studies have documented that the health risks of smokeless tobacco use are, at most, 2% those of smoking (Rodu and Godshall, 2006; Rodu, 2011; Fisher 2017; Royal College of Physicians, 2002; Lee and Hamling, 2009).  Unlike cigarettes, smokeless tobacco does not cause lung cancer, heart and circulatory diseases or emphysema.  The Royal College of Physicians concluded in 2002: ‘As a way of using nicotine, the consumption of non-combustible [smokeless] tobacco is on the order of 10–1,000 times less hazardous than smoking, depending on the product.’” (Royal College of Physicians, 2002)

”Low risks from smokeless tobacco use extend to mouth cancer.  A 2002 review documented that men in the U.S. who use moist snuff and chewing tobacco have minimal to no risk for mouth cancer (Rodu and Cole, 2002), and a recent federal study found no excess deaths from the disease among American men who use moist snuff or chewing tobacco (Wyss, 2016).

“As one of us recently wrote, ‘Deception or evasion about major differences in product risks is not supported by public health ethics, health communication or consumer practices.  Public health agencies have an obligation to correct the current dramatic level of consumer misinformation on relative risks that they have fostered.’ (Kozlowski and Sweanor, 2018).”

The FDA and NCI must be more forthcoming with the American public.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mythic Tobacco Endgames

A new $1.2 million campaign to promote tobacco prohibition on college campuses was announced on September 19 (here). 

As I have noted, the federal government annually spends hundreds of millions of dollars in support of academic anti-tobacco research (here).  This time, the money is coming from pharmacy giant CVS’s Health Foundation as part of a five-year, $50 million campaign.  CVS collaborators include the misnamed Truth Initiative (see here and here) and the American Cancer Society, whose numerous prohibitionist exploits are reported in this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

Campaign awards to several Texas schools were reported in a Houston Chronicle article (here) that included illustrations offering and refuting four tobacco “myths”.  In this effort, the paper (or the campaign) repeated fantastical claims that are often made by prohibitionists.

Myth #1: “Almost no one smokes any more [sic].”  A myth, by definition, is a widely held view, so this attempt fails from the start. The latest data from the CDC, for 2016, shows 38 million smokers in the United States – a substantial and highly visible group of people, all in need of effective quit-smoking tools and support.

Myth #2: “e-Cigarettes, hookahs and cigars are safe alternatives.”  Again, few people hold this view (here).  Scientists, the industry and public health officials agree that no form of tobacco use is perfectly “safe.”  Eminent authorities like Britain’s Royal College of Physicians, however, have pronounced that vaping “is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.” (here)  Furthermore, FDA data shows that smoking one or two cigars a day have almost no health risks (here and here).

Myth #3: “Infrequent, social smoking is harmless.”  This is creating a myth when one doesn’t exist.

Myth #4: “Smoking outside eliminates secondhand smoke dangers.”  Myths convey false information.  This statement is entirely true.

Ironically, some viewers of the online Chronicle article are shown an advertisement for Nicorette gum, reproduced here.  While pharmaceutical nicotine has a known 93% quit-smoking failure rate (here), this ad touts one day of success – an extraordinarily low bar for cessation.