4 Takeaways From FDA’s Long-Term Nicotine Study

By 
Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

In March 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) presented the first wave of data from its nine-year study on nicotine usage behaviors. In conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, the FDA has been following 46,000 U.S. residents ages 12 and up, both smokers and nonsmokers, as part of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study.

While the study will continue through 2022, the agency released its finding from wave one (which ran from 2013 to 2014) at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco Conference in Chicago. Here are four important takeaways.

1. Regular E-Cig Use is Still Low in Adults and Minors

For all the attention given to electronic cigarettes, the PATH data suggests regular usage remains low. By comparison, 27.6% of adults and 8.9% of youths reported using any form of tobacco in the past month.

E-Cig Use in the Past 30 Days

Adults 5.5%
Youth (12-17) 3.1%

2. Cig Use Is All or Nothing

While e-cig use remains low, those who do use e-cigs are vaping regularly or only rarely. More than 40% of current adult users of e-cigs said they had used them fewer than three times a month, while 22.8% reported using e-cigs on a daily basis.

How Many Days E-Cig Users Vaped Per Month

0 22.8%
1-2 19.4%
3-4 8.4%
5-9 12.0%
10-29 14.8%
30 22.8%

Note: Total does not add up to 100% due to rounding.


3. E-Cig Use Is Most Prominent Among Current Smokers

There's been a lot of accusations about electronic cigarettes serving as a gateway to further tobacco use, but the PATH data suggests otherwise—especially when you look at who is regularly using e-cigs.

Who’s Using E-Cigs?

Smoking status of current e-cig users Ever used vape Daily vaper
Never smoker 15.9% 8.5%
Long-term Quitter 5.7% 14.5%
Recent quitter 8.6% 27.4%
Current smoker 69.8% 49.6%

4. Minors Get Tobacco From Social Sources, Not Retailers

States and cities that have raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco have argued this further restricts youth access. Yet the PATH data reiterates that minors are not getting tobacco from retail but from social sources, with 86% of the 15- to 17-year-olds surveyed saying they get cigarettes through nonretail options.

Source of Access to Cigarettes (Ages 15 to 17)

Bought myself 14%
Gave someone else money to buy 32%
Bought from someone/Took from store or person 7%
Asked for or someone offered 43%
Other 5%

Note: Total does not add up to 100% due to rounding.