FDA Chief More Concerned About Teen Pot Use Than Teen Nicotine Use

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s comments may not be backed up by the data.
FDA Chief More Concerned About Teen Pot Use Than Teen Nicotine Use
Dawn Gilfillan/ Shutterstock

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently went on air to voice his concerns about teens and marijuana. In particular, he said he is more concerned about youth consumption of marijuana than he is nicotine. Interestingly, recent data shows that there are roughly twice as many teens who vape nicotine than those who vape marijuana.

Gottlieb’s Comments

Earlier today, Gottlieb discussed marijuana use among teens while being interviewed by CNBC. Many of his comments focused on what he claims is an alarming uptick of marijuana consumption among young people.

“I’m worried about the inhalation of a product and the risks associated with that,” he said. “I’m worried about the perception that somehow there’s no risks associated with youth use of the product.”

A short time later, he began comparing teen consumption of cannabis to teen use of nicotine. Initially, he seemed to frame them both as equally risky: “I think we all need to be deeply concerned about that in the same way we’re deeply concerned about youth access to e-cigarettes and nicotine.”

But then he made a sudden shift. He ended up arguing that cannabis consumption among teens is more worrisome than nicotine: “We should be even more concerned about youth access to marijuana and cannabis.”

Many of his comments seemed to reflect findings from the most recent Monitoring the Future study. So far, the 2017 edition is still the most current.

And in some ways, Gottlieb seemed to accurately represent some of the study’s findings. In particular, he is correct that there has been a slight uptick in the number of teens consuming marijuana.

Specifically, there was a 1.3 percent increase in the number of teens who reported consuming weed in the year prior. It is important to note, however, that this was the first increase in seven years.

Before that, teen cannabis use remained fairly constant or saw small declines. Given this, it’s unclear if 2017’s uptick is part of an ongoing trend or if it was an anomaly.

Is Teen Marijuana Consumption a Bigger Deal Than Teen Nicotine Use?

But Gottlieb’s comments begin to stray from the data when it comes to his claim that teen cannabis consumption is more troubling than teen nicotine use.

While data from the Monitoring the Future study show that cigarette use has plummeted, it also shows that vaping has taken over as one of the most popular ways for teens to consume both marijuana and nicotine.

A closer look at some key data shows that nicotine use is much more prevalent than marijuana among teens who vape. Here’s the breakdown of teens who vape weed:

  • 10% of all 12th graders;
  • 8% of all 10th graders;
  • 3% of all 8th graders.

And here’s the breakdown of teens who vape nicotine:

  • 19% of all 12th graders;
  • 16% of all 10th graders;
  • 8% of all 8th graders.

In light of these stats, it is interesting that Gottlieb insists that the nation “should be even more concerned about” marijuana than nicotine.

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