by Carl V Phillips
In a story that is practically a carbon copy of the lies from the Florida Department of Health that I discussed a few days ago, the CDC is lying to the public about statistics on school-aged e-cigarette use. But this time, the lies are officially coming from our nation’s government, not some second-rate local department. (Note, by calling them “second-rate” I am giving Florida the benefit of the doubt: in my experience, state health departments start at second-rate and go down from there.)
The CDC results were published in the agency’s newsletter/blog, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and the lies were blasted out to the public via this press release. Any American who is still shocked to find that their government is lying to them is an idiot (I doubt I will insult even a single one of my readers by saying that), and yet many reporters tend to blindly transcribe what CDC says rather than, say, bothering to read beyond the headline to see that it is clear based on only what CDC themselves reported in their press release that the claims are lies.
The headline of the press release manages to fit in one lie and two misleading claims, “E-cigarette use more than doubles among U.S. middle and high school students from 2011-2012”. The biggest lie is that they report nothing about use. All the reported statistics are about about trying the products, perhaps only once, which is obviously not the same thing (and CDC knows this). Some statistics reported are for “ever having tried” and the others are “tried at least once in the last 30 days”. They misidentify anyone who has tried in the last month as a current user, which is a rather blatant lie. (Of course, some of those who tried recently may well actually be users, but there is nothing in the report that lets us conclude that even one single student is actually an e-cigarette user.)
The second sneaky lie was listing “middle school” ahead of “high school” even though the results for the former are trivial. But it is scarier to imply that this is mostly about 12-year-olds and not 18-year-old high school students, isn’t it?
The third lie in the headline requires a bit of numeracy and data that is right there in the press release. (This opens the question of whether our nation’s government’s top health officials are themselves innumerate.) The number that more than doubled is for “ever tried”. When your study population is 3/4 the same people from one observation to the next (as it the case with students who are in high school in 2012 compared to those in 2011), and the phenomenon you are studying is new enough that most of the trying is recent (as with e-cigarettes or whatever the latest offering McDonalds or Pepsico has added to their menu), then of course you are going to see a sharp increase in the number who have ever tried it. It is almost impossible to see a decrease, and moreover, if the exact same number tried for the first time each year, that would come close to doubling the number who had ever tried.
You are with me there, right? An 11th grader, in 2011, who tried an e-cigarette in 10th grade is still part of the “ever tried” group when he is in 12th grade in 2012. If one of his classmates tried one for the first time in 11th grade, he joins his friend in the “ever tried” group in 2012. Though the rate of trying was the same for this two-person population each year, the “ever tried” statistic DOUBLED!!!! Scream it from the rooftops!
Did I mention that CDC are lying to people?
CDC apparently did not actually measure e-cigarette use. They could have, of course. Presumably they knew that the results would contradict the alarmist prohibitionist message they wanted to deliver, and so avoided the truth intentionally. Actual use is clearly trivial. If you actually wade though their breathless rhetoric to find information, you learn that 2.8% of high school students reporting trying an e-cigarette in the last month. How many are actually using them? If it is even as high as 1/10th of that, we are talking 0.3%. But, hey, if you report something like that people will not be worried. And worrying people is the goal. So stick with “doubled!!!!!”.
Identifying the other important lies requires a bit of knowledge rather just the level of math that we can hope every subject of the studies learned many years ago. (Am I being too optimistic about the quality of our schools? Perhaps. But that is off-topic.) It turns out that almost all the e-cigarette triers had also tried cigarettes and indeed that almost 80% of them were “current smokers” (which, given CDC’s misuse of terms may be an overstatement of how much they actually smoke, though we do know that — unlike with e-cigarette trying (“hey, what is that? can I try a puff?”) — a large portion of those who puff a cigarette in a month are genuinely current smokers). So this means that it is quite conceivable that most of those kids who tried an e-cigarette were pursuing THR! That is, they consider themselves to be hooked on smoking and are seeking a low-risk alternative. But we can’t have that, can we?
A comparatively minor point in the context of their more blatant lies, but still quite poisonous, is CDC converting their statistics (via the estimated size of the cohort they are studying) to “1.78 million” total students having tried e-cigarettes. This level of precision implies that they have their result estimated so precisely that they know it to 1 part in 1000. But their trying statistics, even if about as right as they could possibly be have precision in the range of maybe +/-20% at best. (That is the best case scenario — when someone is lying about their statistics, always be concerned that they are lying about the data quality too.) If they had said “almost 2 million” that would be reasonable, but even rounding to 1.8 million would imply more precision than they actually have, let alone 1.78.
Another comparatively minor but not trivial point is that quite a few high school students are of legal age to use tobacco products, and so it would be useful to break out the statistics for under-18 (which, of course, would be lower than those that include the 18- and even 19-year-olds).
It is also worth noting something that we know but apparently CDC does not: Not all e-cigarettes even have nicotine in them. How many of the kids tried e-cigarettes with nicotine? No one knows.
Of course, the biggest lie is the “gateway” lie. You know that when prohibitionists start making claims about a gateway that they have given up on pretending that a behavior is a problem in itself. So they have to make up some reason for prohibiting it, so they claim that it leads to something that is a problem. There is never any evidence to support those claims, about anything, as far as I have ever observed. That is certainly the case here. And yet the CDC makes claims that their data show that we should be worried about gateway effects even though there is no actual hint of that.
You can tell someone is starting with a conclusion and fishing for claims to support it when they contradict themselves over it within a few thousand words. They claim both that the statistics showing almost all e-cigarette triers are smokers (or have tried cigarettes) suggests that there is a worry of a gateway and also that the statistics showing that a few (1/5th) of the (very few) younger kids who tried e-cigarettes had not tried cigarettes means that there might be a gateway. So, guys, what would the evidence need to show to refute the claim there is a gateway? The answer, of course, is that whatever the evidence shows, it supports the claim — this is religion, not science.
Reblogged this on Nhaler News.
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E-cigarettes have saved my life. I smoked at least two packs of non filter cigarettes everyday for 36 years, from the age of 16 to the age of 52. I tried to quit using various methods including cold turkey, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine inhalers and even hypnotism. Nothing worked until I tried e-cigarettes last October. I have stayed away from regular cigarettes for almost a year now, with no withdrawal symptoms. I no longer have the phlegm and lung congestion that had developed over the years. My smokers cough is gone completely. I can run and exercise without getting out of breath. I can smell a smoker from twenty feet away now, and it stinks. I’m ashamed to have subjected family, friends and strangers to that smell for so many years. I have gone from the highest nicotine level that is available from e-cig manufacturers, to the lowest. My next step is the 0 nicotine content vapor, and then to quit completely. I got my cigarettes from people who were of legal age to purchase when I started smoking at the age of 16. Kids now days are doing the same thing. The flavors of the vapor has nothing to do with kids wanting to do this. It has to do with being rebellious. That will never change. If it’s not smoking or vaping then it will be something else. But, alas, truth is boring. Lies and gossip are tasty morsels.
This is why I read you Dr.Carl Phillips. I found the link above and I have no doubts about the enemy!
It´s a pity. There is no word in the article about how postive it is having more teenage vapers. Seems to be a dogma not to mention harm reduction by becomimg vapers instead of smokers. Uhhh, the gateway-nonsense seems to block the thinking of highly intelligent people.
Our topic is not about numbers or percentages but harm reduction. Vaping kids are positive!
Hans, your note reminds me of another, very somewhat similar thought. It is quite possible that young teens who would have tried smoking to impress their peers and “gotten over” the initial distaste that is so common and then gone on to smoke regularly, will instead have tried e-cigs first and then, when trying regular ones, react by saying, “Ick. This is too harsh and makes me cough. If I’m going to smoke I think I’ll use e-cigs instead.” thus, as you say, “becoming vapers instead of smokers.”
Antismokers are generally fundamentally incapable of admitting that smokers enjoy smoking, and antivapers are similar in that they concentrate purely on the concept of nicotine addiction. If nicotine addiction was truly as they picture it to be we would be seeing five, ten, or twenty percent or more highschoolers addicted to nicotine gum by this point. After all, it’s easy for them to get without ID in stores, they can chew it at home or at school without a problem, and it comes in all sorts of bright colorful candy flavors and packaging!
We’d also see heroin addiction being fought by making c*H*ick-O-Let Heroin Gum (TM) freely available in stores for adults and children to buy. Do we? Of course not: even Antismokers aren’t stupid enough to push for such a thing.
In a sense, vaping may be an “anti-gateway” to regular smoking.
Well analyzed and well stated Carl!
I was trying to think of a good parallel or two for your “ever tried” pool changing and haven’t been able to think of something else quite in the same category of being “new.” BUT… I *think* I thought of a nice reverse analysis! My numbers here are plucked out of my imagination, but the proportions are in the right direction:
FLASH! Obama support among college students dropping rapidly! In May of 2013 over 50% of electorally-registered college freshman admitted to having ever voted for President Obama in a presidential election. Now, just 4 months later, that number has decreased to under 5%! A drop of over 900% in just 4 months!!! On an annual basis the President’s support in that crucial population segment of voters has dropped by a rate of close to THREE THOUSAND PERCENT!
Not sure I’ve analyzed the above correctly… but I think I did. Did I?
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Carl Phillips. Beautifully said and analysed. Is it possible to say the same thing, maybe with some pictures to compress it? I would love to send to my MP and MEPs but I don’t think they will have the interest to read it all.
Probably yes — it is possible. Unfortunately, I am not likely to have a chance to do it, nor would I necessarily be the right one to do it anyway. I understand your point, that it would be useful. However, I am rather better at explaining things to people who are willing to read enough to really understanding, rather than talking in propaganda soundbites like CDC. That is why I pretty much only teach graduate students and not third graders. Of course, government officials who would make laws that have a huge negative impact on millions of people but cannot be bothered to actually understand them are more like third graders.
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