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In Wales non-vaping kids plan to smoke

A blog by Andrew Cunningham in the UK edition of the Huffington Post trumpets the horrifying finding that “there is now evidence that e-cigarettes are indeed bringing new smokers into the arena.”

The blogger notes that he has already suggested this claim, but encountered resistance from the “tobacco industry”, which he believes is behind the marketing of “vaping as a safe alternative to smoking”. Cunningham shows no awareness that there are a number of independent vaping firms with the goal of “obsoleting smoking”. He says that “tobacco companies have . . . cleverly introduced vaping as the acceptable face of nicotine addiction,” apparently unaware that Big Tobacco got into the vaping industry only after 5 years of vigourous opposition.

Cunningham's source is a BBC report on a Welsh government study of smoking in automobiles that exposes children to secondhand smoke. Almost as an afterthought, the study took up the completely different subject of e-cigarette use among Welsh schoolchildren. It appears that 6% of Welsh 10-11-year-olds have tried vaping, as against 2% who have smoked. “The vast majority of children who had tried e-cigarettes had never tried tobacco,” concludes the BBC story. But the article goes on to claim that kids who experimented with vaping “were seven times more likely to say they might start smoking within 2 years.”

Let's take a closer look. The Welsh government study reports that “anti-smoking intentions were substantially weaker among those who had used e-cigarettes, with 15% saying that they might, or will, take up smoking in the next two years, compared to 2% of those who had not.” (This “will” is an outright falsehood – not a single one of the vaping experimenters declared a definite intention to smoke in the future. The figure actually reports those who did NOT say they definitely or probably would NOT smoke.)

But the detailed report of the Welsh study displays a more complex picture. “Among never smoking children who reported having used an e-cigarette, few stated that they probably or definitely will smoke in 2 years. However, children who had used an e-cigarette were substantially less likely to report that they definitely would not smoke in 2 years, and more likely to report that they probably will not or might smoke in 2 years’ time. Hence, having used an e-cigarette is associated with weaker anti-smoking intentions.”

But directly under this statement (at the bottom of page 41), we find a chart (Table 13. Percentage of never smoking children reporting each level of intention to smoke by whether or not they had used an e-cigarette) breaking down the numbers. The categories are “Definitely not”, “Probably not”, “Maybe maybe not”, “Probably yes”, “Definitely yes”. For “children who had used an e-cigarette,” the 15% figure for possible intention to smoke in the future (actually 14.3%) was the sum of the “maybe maybe not” (9 children, 11.7%) and “probably yes” (2 children, 2.6%). On this line there were no “definitely yes” answers. Two probables and one definite for a whopping total of 2 (maybe). So no child vapers were definitely planning to smoke.

This calls to mind the data interpretation of a recent survey of youth smoking behavior by the US Centers for Disease Control, that lumped together “probably not”, “probably yes” and “definitely yes” answers, and reported them as an intention to smoke.

On the previous line, “children who had not used an e-cigarette,” there were 3 “probably yes” answers and 1 “definitely yes” answer. Three probables and one definite, for a total of 4. So the results of the study could with as much justification report that twice as many non-vaping children plan to smoke, so that NON-use of e-cigs is a predictor of future smoking.