Health & Studies

Fab Four Find Flaws

The “Fantastic Four” of tobacco and nicotine research have discovered that the claimed American teen vaping epidemic has been grossly overblown

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Public Health England’s Martin Dockrell hailed a new study by “The Fantastic Four” of tobacco and nicotine research. The team looked at claims surrounding a so-called teen epidemic of vaping in the United States. They analysed the National Youth Tobacco Survey to see if it could reveal the true picture of who is vaping and what this means.

Dockrell marvelled at their work: “Epidemic of youth nicotine addiction? It turns out that the U.K. isn't like the U.S., the U.S. is like the U.K. Regular vaping is rare in kids who didn't already smoke. Thanks to the Fantastic Four of tobacco and nicotine research.”

The University College London quartet:

  • Robert West (Mister Fantastic)
  • Sarah Jackson (Invisible Woman)
  • Jamie Brown (Thing)
  • Martin Jarvis (Human Torch)

In response to the National Youth Tobacco Survey 2017, the Food and Drug Administration put out a press statement quoting HHS Secretary Alex Azar: “America faces an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which threatens to engulf a new generation in nicotine addiction.”

Then FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb added: “The data from this nationally representative survey…. show astonishing increases in kids’ use of e-cigarettes and other ENDS, reversing years of favourable trends in our nation’s fight to prevent youth addiction to tobacco products. These data shock my conscience.”

The survey heralded America’s new war on vaping and tobacco harm reduction, although anti-vape press releases containing the word “epidemic” had been circulating for a number of months prior.

By contrast, “in the UK, use of e-cigarettes by adolescents has not attracted such concern or policy intervention. Commentators have noted that e-cigarette use is strongly associated with cigarette smoking in young people and is very rare amongst never smokers,” write our superheroes.

Our analysis of data from the NYTS confirms the headline reports of a large increase in past-30-day use of e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2019. However, there was a strong association between lifetime history of use of tobacco products and use of e-cigarettes: in 2019, high school students who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime were some 18 times more likely to have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days than students who had only ever used e-cigarettes and never other tobacco products. In 2018, use of e-cigarettes on 20 or more days in the past month was seen in only 1.0% of those who were otherwise tobacco naive and in 2019 the figure was only 2.1%.”

While it may well be the case that in some individual instances initial trying of an e-cigarette led on to trying and using cigarettes, the data strongly suggest that this is not the dominant pattern observed at the level of the whole population.”

We found little evidence of substantial nicotine addiction attributable to the use of e-cigarettes.”

Will this paper reverse years of attacks on tobacco harm reduction? Highly unlikely. For America, as Victor Domashev said in one of the FF films: “There is no victor, only Doom!”


  • Epidemic of youth nicotine addiction? What does the National Youth Tobacco Survey 2017-2019 reveal about high school e-cigarette use in the USA?” by West, Jackson, Brown and Jarvis – [link]

Photo Credit:

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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