The Teen Vaping Epidemic
In 2018, twice as many high school students used e-cigarettes as the year before. This disturbing trend, and the resultant political fallout, threatens the future of the vaping industry.
The Truth Behind the Headlines
It has been impossible to miss the surge in press coverage on teen vaping. And it is not only media wags who are sounding off. In an FDA press release in September, the word “epidemic” was used 10 times. This alarmist document was followed 2 months later by restrictive new FDA regulations on e-cigarettes.
Until the use of e-cigs by minors is resolved, it will continue to drive the narrative on vaping and keep e-cigarettes firmly in the crosshairs of regulators. Worse still, the recent spike in teen vaping has given anti-vapers additional leverage to promote punitive restrictions on e-cigarettes and juice flavors.
Fountain of Misinformation
Fountains of misinformation like Parents Against Vaping e-cigs (PAVe) have long relied zombie vaping myths to promote their radical agenda: a complete flavor ban and a total prohibition of online e-cig sales. Now they have additional ammunition in the form of electronic nicotine delivery systems that have ended up in the hands of children.
Their time tested “what about the children?” plea will eventually resonate with a critical mass of voters and politicians. Teen vaping needs to be addressed and their spurious arguments must be debunked at every turn.
To make matters worse, PAVe has used their wealth and connections in New York to obtain a level of press coverage that is quite disproportionate to their knowledge, credentials or actual influence. They have been provided column space in major newspapers for their poorly reasoned op-ed pieces, provided a platform by the national news media to spew their biased rhetoric and allowed to host workshops at schools where they share their special blend of misinformation and extremism. All of this for a group that boasts less than 500 page likes on Facebook and has fewer Instagram followers than my cat.
The FDA’s own numbers show that the majority of minors obtain their e-cigs from social contacts of legal age, but PAVe has yet to push for punitive laws that incarcerate guilty parents, older siblings and friends of legal age. Instead, they are focused on killing a growing industry and cutting off adults from legal cigarette alternatives. Age verification is a serious issue but teen vaping needs to be addressed on the parental level as well.
A Science Based Approach
PAVe epitomizes a dark ages-style, anecdote driven approach to policy. Manipulating emotions is an effective form of persuasion but the FDA should be above this sort of sophistry. As a federal agency, they are motivated by political pressure but at least pay lip service to actual scientific analysis.
Run of the mill politicians pose a far graver threat. They are much more likely to make rash and ill-informed decisions based on their own passions, prejudices and pressure from wealthy influencers. This is how we ended up with a two bills that would result in vaping prohibition in California.
Why would a group of politicians show such little regard for smokers? Why are they willing to place barriers in the way of adults looking for alternatives to combustible cigarettes? Especially with the potential damage being so great. In his November press release, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged the importance of balancing access for adults. This nuance is lost on rabid anti-vaping politicians.
Marginalized Populations and E-Cig Access
The well-being of marginalized populations is clearly of no concern to the California politicians who are fighting for e-cig prohibition and anti-vaping extremists like PAVe. The wealthy have largely given up smoking, but it remains prevalent among the less affluent, minorities and the LGBT community.
The results of this shift are starkly outlined in the CDC’s study, “Cigarette Smoking and Tobacco Use Among People of Low Socioeconomic Status”. Adults with less than a high school education succeed in quitting cigarettes only 43.5 percent of the time versus 73.9 percent for college graduates. Adults earning more than twice the poverty line are only half as likely to smoke as adults living below the poverty line.
The numbers make it clear that the system is failing less affluent smokers. Lung cancer rates are far higher in rural, and poor areas. A lack of access to health care is blamed, and there is no reason to compound the issue by denying them ash and smoke free cigarette alternatives.
The CDC also found that 20.3 percent of adults that identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual smoke cigarettes, versus an overall rate of 14 percent. They are also three times more likely to use electronic cigarettes: 7.5 percent versus 2.6 percent. This is the highest rate for any group surveyed.
Denying marginalized groups access to cigarette alternatives could potentially increase disparate health outcomes. At the very least, it is cruel and unconscionable impose policies that incentivize cigarette smoking over vaping. Expecting adults to totally abstain from legal nicotine is not a reasonable policy.
Public Health England- A Shining Beacon of Hope
Public Health England (PHE), an executive agency in the United Kingdom’s Department of Health and Social Care, continues to promote e-cigs. They have found, “vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits.”
A common argument against e-cigarettes is that they are not useful for smoke cessation, and may serve as a “gateway drug”. That is no typo. The old “gateway drug” myth has been dusted off and is being used in 2018.
The PHE disagrees. They found that, “e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year and possibly many more”. They attribute the improved quit success rates they have encountered to e-cigs as well.
Not surprisingly, PHE found that the “gateway” myth, one of the central pillars of anti-vapers, has no validity:
“The evidence does not support the concern that e-cigarettes are a route into smoking among young people (youth smoking rates in the UK continue to decline, regular use is rare and is almost entirely confined to those who have smoked).”
PHE has no hidden agenda. They dictate government policy and have considerable skin in the game. Like the National Health Service (NHS), the PHE is part of a publicly funded system that relies on tax dollars to stay afloat. With healthcare costs continuing to increase and an aging population to worry about, the UK government shown itself to be ruthless when it comes to cutting measures that do not make financial sense. In 2017, the NHS pulled the plug on homeopathic and herbal treatments as a misuse of resources. Whatever your thoughts are on alternative medicine, this move makes it clear that the UK is not afraid to act if it means saving money.
The NHS pulled funding on natural medicine despite the objections of Prince Charles and a number of other influential parties. Vaping has only been around for about a decade. The industry lacks the support and traditions that surround alternative medicine. There is no question that the NHS and Public Health England would pull the plug on their endorsement of vaping if it was not an effective policy.
The fact is that the UK has outperformed other EU countries when it comes to smoking cessation and they credit their science based approach to e-cigarettes. They have argued that countless lives could be saved if other countries were willing to follow their lead.
Iowa Attorney General Continues to Fight for Smokers
On this side of the pond, Iowa is one of the bright spots for advocates of vaping. In his open letter to the FDA, Iowa Attorney General (AG) Thomas Miller voiced his concerns about reduced to access to electronic cigarettes. AG Miller has a long track record of fighting for smokers. He was at the forefront of lawsuits against big tobacco and made the tobacco companies pay the Iowa for the cost of filing a lawsuit against them.
Miller’s compassionate and well-reasoned arguments stand in stark contrast to much of the coverage that vaping and electronic cigarettes have received in the last year. Miller argued,
“A half million annual American deaths from cigarette smoking are an immediate, stark, and preventable tragedy that should be fully factored in to a rational risk-benefit analysis.”
Youth Smoking Trends
There has been an increase in teen vaping, but it is worth noting that high risk behaviors among high school students have declined tremendously over the past couple of decades. The declines in risky sexual behaviors, drinking, drug use and drunk driving are impressive, but the decline in smoking has been especially steep. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services illustrates this point. Nearly a quarter of 12th graders smoked daily in 1997. That number was halved a decade later to 12.3 percent and by 2015 that number was down to just 5.5 percent.
Unfortunately, between 2011 and 2018 there has been a corresponding increase in the use of electronic cigarettes. This has set off red flags at the FDA and they are justifiably concerned about the dangers posed by nicotine on the developing brain. Citing 2011 FDA data that showed only 1.5 percent of 12th graders used e-cigs and contrasting it with 2018 totals is a ridiculous apples and oranges comparison. But the year over year increase between 2017 and 2018 is a decidedly negative trend. If it isn’t reversed the FDA has threatened to regulate the vaping industry even more heavily.
The Not as Bad as Fallacy
It is easy to parse the CDC’s High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey and pinpoint a number of common activities that are far more detrimental than vaping. From binge drinking to bringing weapons to school, there are plenty of issues that deserve attention.
But relying on this argument is destined to fail. As persuasive as these statistics may seem to an unbiased observer, there are anti-vapers who will never be convinced that e-cigs have any value. Throwing vaping into the same category as drunk driving, binge drinking and LSD actually helps make their case for them.
If we hope to fend off these zealots, we will need to blunt their attacks by seizing the moral high ground. Addressing the issue of minors using e-cigs will defang their arguments and remove the primary pain point that is being used to rally opposition to e-cigarettes. The vaping industry must do our utmost to keep nicotine products out of the hands of minors. This includes educating our adult customers about the problems caused when legally purchased products are diverted to minors.
Minors Not Welcome At Vapor4Life
Vapor4Life, and the overwhelming majority of businesses in the e-cig industry, have no interest in selling to minors and have taken strong steps to cut off supply. We exist to provide adult smokers with an enjoyable cigarette alternative that is free from tar, ash and smoke. As a result, we make a point of performing our due diligence and then some.
In order to keep our products out the hands of children we rely on Veratad, the industry leader in age verification technology. This is the same system that is used by the largest companies selling age restricted products online including vaping supplies, ejuice, alcohol and sports betting. Rather just a meaningless check box, this system compares purchaser data against multiple trusted data sources.
In addition, all of our sales and customer service team members have completed We Card training. We Card is the industry leading standard for in-store age confirmation. In fact, we exceed the local legal requirement and card all customers regardless of age at our Northbrook Vape Shop.