Analyzing data from the baseline 2013-2014 Food and Drug Administration-funded Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, my economist colleague Nantaporn Plurphanswat and I have produced a comprehensive study of e-cigarette use in the United States. The research appears in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

The standard vaping definition has two components. Participants must have:

  1. Regularly vaped;and
  2. Now vape every day or some days.

Using this definition, we estimate that there were 5.5 million current e-cigarette users (2.4 percent of the U.S. population), of which 2.3 million used them daily and 3.2 million used them some days.

However, there are 7.4 million participants who have not “regularly vaped” but report that they use e-cigs every day or some days.  It is important to count them too, and to distinguish them from current users, so we call them “e-cigarette triers,” the vast majority of whom (95 percent) use them some days. The total of current users and triers is 12.9 million (or about 5.6 percent of the population).

(In a recent blog post, I estimated that there were 8.9 million U.S. vapers in 2014, based on the National Health Interview Survey. The fact that the NHIS does not collect data on “regular” vaping likely accounts for the differences from our new PATH-based 12.9 million estimate.)

PATH Vapers1

The figure above shows that the vast majority of everyday current vapers were either current smokers (47 percent) or former smokers (46 percent). In contrast, most “some day” vapers and all e-cigarette triers were current smokers, and the percentage of never smokers was higher in these groups.

PATH also collected more detailed cigarette smoking information than did NHIS.  In our new article we note that we use a similar:

…classification strategy…for estimates of cigarette smoking. The number of current smokers in PATH was 41.5 million, and 80 percent were daily smokers, which is consistent with the 2014 NHIS.  However, there were also 7.1 million cigarette triers, who are distinguished by being every day or some day smokers who had not consumed 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.  Triers do not fit the traditional definition of current smokers, so we have included them as a subset of ‘never-smokers’ for comparison with NHIS surveys, where they would have been classified as never-smokers by answering ‘no’ to the 100-cigarette question and not being asked about every or some day smoking. This is an indication that a substantial number of American smokers may have been misclassified as never-smokers in previous national surveys.

PATH Vapers2

These details illuminate critical characteristics of both vapers and smokers. For example, as shown the chart above, the vast majority of vapers who “never smoked,” according to the NHIS definition, are actually current or former cigarette triers. Only a small fraction (7-11 percent) have never tried cigarettes. This finding refutes the common claim that vaping attracts never smokers.

Other vaping insights gleaned from the PATH survey will be discussed in a future post.


Image by Zeljko Radojko