Vapers everywhere have been watching a heightened level of attention surround their favorite hobby over the last few months. With all the noise around a potential ban of all flavored vape juices, one of the most common lines you’ll hear from pro-ban people is that it would protect minors from picking up what they consider a dangerous habit. Teenage vaping, they say, is an epidemic. We’ve discussed here before that this is a misguided perception fueled mostly by misinformation and a misunderstanding of the retail vape market.
Young people, people not old enough to legally purchase or consume nicotine products, should not be vaping. You won’t find anyone here arguing the contrary. The question that we’re going to dive into here is whether or not the “teenage vaping crisis” that the media has been reporting on warrants the alarmist rhetoric we’ve all been hearing. As we’ve all become painfully aware of, the media has a tendency to drum up controversy whether it’s there or not.
Teen vaping media coverage
Much of the media’s reaction to the current vaping situation is based on a story from years ago where Juul was going to high schools to promote the safety of vaping to minors. It’s a campaign they’ve since halted and apologized for. But the narrative picked up from there and we’ve still seen plenty of negative press for the vaping industry, and Juul specifically.
Once this new lung illness started getting connected to vapes, even though the majority of cases are related to black market THC products, the media went on to scapegoat the entire vape industry. And with the Trump administration justifying their flavored e-cig ban by saying it would protect kids from vaping, the media was able to keep this narrative afloat.
The study that started it all
The primary piece of information that people will point to when talking about the teenage vaping “crisis,” is a study that came from the National Youth Tobacco Survey that saw a 78% rise in vape use among US high school students from 2017 to 2018. Now, at face value, that statistic seems like a legitimate cause for concern, but there are some serious flaws in the way that information is being reported.
A group of independent UK researchers re-analyzed the information found in that study to see if there really is a crisis on our hands. While, yes, that 78% statistic is technically true, it’s based on the number of US high schoolers that had vaped once in the previous 30 days. What this reanalysis does a bit differently than the initial researchers is it differentiates between “experimental” vaping and regular users. Basically, they made room for kids who had tried vaping but weren’t actually someone you would consider a “vaper,” and it also identified vapers that were already cigarette smokers before they started vaping.
Given that change, it was discovered that this study actually found that nearly everyone in the study considered regular vapers (people that vaped 20 or more days in the last month) were already using tobacco before vaping.
Of all the people in the study that said they had never used tobacco before, only 8.4% of them had vaped in the last 30 days, and only 1% had become regular users. That represents a stark contrast from the story you’re often hearing in the media, that kids are rapidly becoming vapers where they would otherwise never touch a tobacco product. This statistic is extra compelling when you combine it with the fact that this same study in 2015 found that the vast majority of youth that vape actually tried smoking first. Considering that vaping is widely regarded as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, this study actually shows that vaping is mitigating the dangerous effects of cigarettes on US high school kids.
What actually helps the kids
It’s important to keep in mind that the US media is just about always trying to get people fired about one topic or another. One of the recent targets of that behavior has been vaping. That doesn’t mean that the vaping industry doesn’t have improvements to make or changes to consider. Keeping young people away from compounds like nicotine that their bodies aren’t ready for, that’s a problem in which the vaping industry will continue to hold an important role in solving. But, in order for everybody to move forward and protect those kids without unnecessarily burdening legitimate business, we have to make sure we are responding to facts, not hysteria.
There’s a reason that Americans have a very different view of vaping than many comparable countries in the UK. We need to pick and choose what we’re actually throwing a fit over, or we risk serious cultural and economic repercussions. Teen vaping is something that we should all work toward preventing, but that doesn’t mean we have a crisis on our hands like the media would have you believe.