When It Comes To Switching To Vaping, African Americans Lag Behind

Carl V. Phillips | Contributor

The Centers for Disease Control has released a report that breaks down the demographics of American vapers, smokers and other tobacco users. CDC’s own analysis is fairly useless, but the numbers do offer some interesting insights. In particular, they show remarkably similar levels of switching from smoking to vaping across demographic groups.

CDC analyzed survey results for adults who work outside the home, which reduces some major differences between them and others. By removing retirees and full-time students, this helps highlight other demographic differences.

The results show the well-known statistics that smoking is more common among people who are male, younger, poorer, live in the midwest or south, are non-Hispanic, and work in blue collar occupations. This results in vaping being more common in those groups also, since almost everyone who vapes does so as a substitute for smoking. Thus, just looking at the rates of vaping among the different demographics is not terribly informative, since it just echoes the smoking rates.

Looking at the ratio of vapers to smokers, however, is informative about who is more inclined to switch to vaping. The ratio of vapers-to-smokers is between 1-to-5 and 1-to-4 for the whole population. (CDC did not look attempt to analyze those ratios. Additionally, they did not separate exclusive vaping separately, so it is not possible to distinguish between vapers who have only partially substituted vaping for smoking; they are included on both sides of the ratios.)

Across age groups, the ratio of vapers to smokers is higher for younger people, as expected. It is similar for men and women and across geographic regions. It is noticeably higher among those with at least a high school education. It is lower among black and Hispanic people compared to other groups. But the most striking result is that all of the differences in ratios are quite modest, with a single exception. Vaping, it seems, is close to being an equal-opportunity alternative to smoking.

The exception is non-Hispanic black people, where the ratio is less than one vaper for every six cigarette smokers. The ratio is worse still when smokers of other tobacco products are included (little cigars, which are basically cigarettes, are particularly popular in this population).

The differences are greater across occupational categories. People working in construction and extraction (mining and such), as well as those in janitorial-type jobs were substantially less likely to have substituted vaping for smoking, though the former category had a particularly high rate of smokeless tobacco use. This may suggest a difference in the opportunities to smoke in those jobs, though it might be a socioeconomic difference that was too specific to show up in the broader demographic categories.

The standout occupational group was “Installation, Maintenance, and Repair,” with more than one-third as many vapers as smokers. It is not clear why.

Interestingly, none of the white collar professional categories differed much from the average ratio, some on one side and some on the other. These groups have lower rates of smoking, but only average rates of substituting vaping for smoking. This includes the health professions, where we might expect higher than average rates of switching from smoking to vaping. This is further evidence that many health professionals have been tricked by anti-vaping propaganda, not just into giving bad advice, but also into not switching themselves.

The CDC authors, of course, concluded their report by saying there should be more efforts to discourage people from using all the products, a conclusion which was in no way supported by the research. They did not acknowledge that if improving population health is the goal, it is only discouraging smoking that matters.

Had they wished to actually draw legitimate conclusions based on their data, CDC could have observed that smokers in demographic groups that normally have healthier behaviors do not appear much more likely to switch to vaping. This suggests that people who pay attention to health advice are exposed to enough anti-vaping propaganda to just offset the useful information that is available.

On the bright side, no subpopulation of working-age smokers is being completely left behind. Similar portions of people across the broad demographics have learned the advantages of vaping. However, African Americans are lagging in vaping uptake, probably due more to the cultural contagion effect than differences in propaganda effects. While they are slightly less likely to smoke than white Americans, the slower uptake of vaping could reverse this.

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Carl V. Phillips



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