Thursday, January 18, 2018

1.7 Million High Schoolers Vaped in 2016, As Both Vaping and Smoking Declined

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) shows that 1.08 million (7.2%) American high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, 580,000 (3.9%) smoked, and 660,000 (4.4%) used both products.

Compared with 2015, smoking declined by about 14% and vaping by 28%.
The apparent spike in e-cigarette use from 2013 to 2014 was partially due to what scientific researchers refer to as an artifact, as it stemmed from a change in the survey design.  Questions about e-cigarette use were bundled with those for other rarely used tobacco products until 2014, when they appeared in a separate section. 

The NYTS also collected information on how many days e-cigarettes were used in the past month.  The chart below shows that 7 out of 10 students who vaped but did not smoke used e-cigarettes five days or fewer.  This is basically “party” or “weekend” vaping, rather than regular use.  While half of high school students who vaped and smoked used e-cigs five or fewer days, 22% used them all 30 days.

Last June, the CDC published selected information from the 2016 NYTS (here), listing smoking and vaping rates separately, effectively double-counting the 660,000 high-schoolers who vaped and smoked.  The CDC only released the full NYTS data set earlier this month (here).
The federal data confirm that e-cigarette experimentation by youth since 2011 has not produced an epidemic of smoking.  In fact, the decline in youth smoking accelerated to a record low rate.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Trials and Tribulations of Reduced Risk Tobacco Products

When Congress gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco in 2009, it provided a pathway for companies to obtain approval for “modified risk tobacco products (MRTPs)…, sold or distributed for use to reduce harm or the risk of tobacco-related disease…” (here).  While decades of epidemiologic studies prove that non-combustible tobacco products are vastly safer than those involving inhaled smoke laced with thousands of toxins, the legislation required proof from manufacturers that MRTPs must “benefit the health of the population as a whole taking into account both users of tobacco products and persons who do not currently use tobacco products.” (here)  In other words, MRTPs must benefit the 60 million Americans who smoke as well as 250 million American non-smokers.

Despite this challenge, tobacco manufacturers have made credible efforts to seek MRTP status.  Swedish Match in 2014 started down this pathway (here) to remedy inaccurate warning labels that are required on their smokeless tobacco products and marketing materials (here).  The FDA denied the company’s application in 2016 (here).

In November of that year, Philip Morris International (PMI) requested MRTP status for its IQOS heat-not-burn tobacco (here).  IQOS is already available in 31 other countries.  However, since it is an entirely new product, the company must also pursue an FDA premarket tobacco application (PMTA) before it can be sold in the U.S.

PMI seeks MRTP approval for any one of three messages:

“Switching completely from cigarettes to the IQOS system can reduce the risks of tobacco-related diseases.”

“Switching completely to IQOS presents less risk of harm than continuing to smoke cigarettes.”

“Switching completely from cigarettes to the IQOS system significantly reduces your body’s exposure to harmful and potentially harmful chemicals.”

Another manufacturer, R.J. Reynolds, filed an MRTP application in March 2017 for its Camel Snus products (here).  They, too, submitted three messages, this being the most comprehensive: “Smokers who switch completely from cigarettes to Camel Snus can significantly reduce their risk of lung cancer, oral cancer, respiratory disease, and heart disease.”

Despite a wealth of evidence to support such statements, FDA took two and a half years to reject the Swedish Match MRTP application (here), as can be seen in the following table.

Key Dates for General Snus, IQOS and Camel Snus MRTP Applications

EventGeneral Snus (Swedish Match)IQOS (PMI)Camel Snus (R.J. Reynolds)

Submission DateJune 6, 2014November 18, 2016March 31, 2017
Time to next step2 months6 months9 months
FDA AcceptanceAugust 27, 2014May 24, 2017December 18, 2017
Time to next step8 months8 months---
TPSAC MeetingApril 8, 2015January 24, 2018---
Time to next step20 months------
FDA DecisionDecember 14, 2016------

In the 30 months it took the FDA to analyze and reject the first MRTP application, 1.2 million Americans died from smoking.  The agency must move faster in its evaluation of obviously lower-risk smoke-free tobacco products and give them MRTP status.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tobacco Gateway Report Omits Important Information

Here we go again.  Another federally funded study from the University of California, San Francisco, claims that “Nonsmoking adolescents who use e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or tobacco water pipes are more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes within a year.” (UCSF press release here)  Researchers analyzed data on some 10,400 teens enrolled in the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Survey in 2013-2014, then followed up with the subjects one year later.

“We found that teens who experimented with tobacco in any form were at greater risk of future smoking,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin W. Chaffee; his study appears in JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers report that teens who had ever used e-cigarettes, hookah, other combustible products or smokeless tobacco at the baseline survey were two or three times as likely to be smoking cigarettes (in the past-30 days) one year later than those who had not tried any tobacco product.  Those who had tried two or more products were 3.8 times more likely to be smoking.

The authors used a sophisticated analysis to arrive at these results, but news stories describing this as evidence of a gateway to teen smoking (examples here and here) are inaccurate.

Chaffee and his colleagues, including anti-tobacco crusader Stanton Glantz, omitted information that is critical to putting their findings in perspective.  Although teens trying other tobacco products were more likely to smoke, the majority of new smokers after one year came from the group that had not tried tobacco at baseline.  I offer the following calculations based on obscure information in the published article.

Odds Ratios (ORs) And Numbers of Teens Smoking Cigarettes After One Year, According to Ever Tobacco Status at Baseline
Ever Tobacco Status- Baseline (n)OR (95% Confidence Interval)Number Smoking At One Year (%)

Never tobacco use (9,058)Referent175 (79.9)
E-cigarettes (255)2.1211 (5.0)
Hookah (189)2.158 (3.7)
Other combustible (114)3.087 (3.2)
Smokeless tobacco (93)1.533 (1.4)
Two or more products (200)3.8115 (6.8)

All (9,909)
219 (100)

After one year, 219 teens had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days, and 175 of those (80%) had never used any tobacco product at baseline.  Even though the odds of smoking were higher among youth who had tried other products, the number of smokers contributed by each of these groups was minuscule.  (While actual survey numbers may vary slightly, the relative contributions of the groups will not change.)

The Chaffee article emphasizes odds ratios but omits or obscures important contextual information.  While teens who try one tobacco product are more likely to try another, the dominant gateway in the PATH survey was from no previous tobacco use to cigarettes.

No underage tobacco initiation is acceptable; neither is misdirection by researchers.