Renowned epidemiologist debunks FDA claims of teen vaping ‘epidemic’

During last week’s congressional hearings surrounding a perceived rise in teen vaping rates, Juul CEO Kevin Burns came under consistent attack by federal lawmakers regarding the company’s alleged role. As the hearings conducted by the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy got underway, it quickly became painfully obvious that the event was not designed to be a true fact-finding mission.  Rather, many committee members would simply use his or her 5-minutes of questioning to rant, rave, and spread grossly misinformed and utterly biased opinions regardless of scientific evidence.

At several points during the congressional back-and-forth, the topic of vaping science was highlighted ever so slightly.  A common fallback position of anti-vaping activists is that more research is needed before academia, and consequently lawmakers supposedly, can claim definitively whether vapor products are safe for human consumption.

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Yet, two democratic congressional members - Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley of The Squad fame -  agreed that “we don’t need more studies,” particularly when it comes to vaping versus smoking.  In their minds, Juul is essentially “killing” people.  In an interview with Brett Stafford of Regulator Watch in the days following, world class epidemiologist Dr. Raymond Niaura discussed how these highly inaccurate allegations of a teen vaping “epidemic” became so vastly overblown. 

FDA’s stance on vaping is ‘annoying and frustrating’

The fearmongering began in the autumn of 2018 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) led by then-Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb issued a press release announcing, “new steps to address [the] epidemic of youth e-cigarette use.”  The mainstream media immediately picked up the story, and before long, approximately 45 percent of the American People mistakenly believed that vaping is just as deadly as smoking.  This statistic comes from a recent survey conducted by the Georgia State University Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science entitled Changing Perceptions of Harm of e-Cigarette vs Cigarette Use Among Adults in 2 US National Surveys From 2012 to 2017 (JAMA).

Related Article:   Public health expert: FDA ‘cherry-picking’ vaping data to create ‘fake epidemic’

As an expert epidemiologist, Dr. Raymond Niaura of the New York University College of Global Public Health knows a thing or two about so-called epidemics.  And in Niaura’s eyes, the FDA is grossly misusing this term.  During the recent Regulator Watch interview, host Brent Stafford asked the Interim Chair of NYU’s Department of Epidemiology if teen vaping is indeed a national “epidemic.”

“Well, it depends on how you define an epidemic, which is actually NOT – as far as I can tell - [the FDA press release] doesn’t have the strict guidelines in terms of definitions.  But, it has been declared an epidemic by no less than the Food and Drug Administration and the Surgeon General of the United States.  So, by their accounts, it is an epidemic.“

Interviewer Stafford then asks why two of one of the world’s largest public health agencies - the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – use terms like “epidemic” and “clear and present danger” which are typically reserved for such potentially catastrophic outbreaks of deadly diseases like yellow fever and the Ebola virus.  Dr. Niaura responds by noting the data used by the FDA to declare a vaping epidemic in September 2018 was not publicly available at the time of the announcement, which, in itself, is rather strange.  

“Yes, and you bring up Ebola, which is raging in the Congo right now. And that’s an epidemic...”
“Frankly, this is what was annoying and frustrating by the – back in the fall when the FDA and the CDC… and the Surgeon General were saying that [teen vaping] was an epidemic, we researchers didn’t have access to…this information at that point in time.  And, you know, we’re an obsessive-compulsive bunch.  We like to slice and dice and dissect and look at everything and kick the tires for ourselves to convince ourselves, you know, that we understand what’s going on.  And, you know, I have to say – and no offense to the FDA or the CDC or the federal government – but we don’t take things on trust.  That’s not how science works.“

Niaura then goes on to discuss the 2017 and 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) recently released by the CDC just a few short months ago.  However, the new data, Niaura mentions, fails to support the FDA allegations of an epidemic rise in teen vaping across the board.

Related Article:  Public health expert says ‘bogus’ outrage over vaping is ‘literally killing people’

In fact, only one, very specific category of teen vapers is experiencing a strong uptick.  Teen vapers who admitted to using a vapor device at least once within 30-days – if only for a single puff – increased from 7.9 percent in 2017 to 13.4% in 2018. 

Meanwhile, national teen smoking rates are at all-time lows, and a whopping 72.4 percent of the underage population has never vaped a day in their lives – not even as experimentation.  Most notably, a mere 3.4 percent of the teen population self-identify as “Frequent Use” vapers compared to the FDA’s more frightening assertions of an “80% rise in teen vaping in 2018.”

The latter statistic only applies to the “Past 30-day Use” category of single-puff and occasional vapers,  By focusing solely on this single statistic, the FDA, the CDC, and the federal government may be intentionally or unwittingly misleading the general public regarding a teen vaping epidemic that is essentially non-existent.

To view the entire interview with Brent Stafford, visit Regulator Watch. 

(Banner image courtesy of NYU College of Global Public Health)

(Chart image courtesy of Regulator Watch/YouTube)

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