Is Teen Vaping Actually a Public Health Crisis?
I’ve been hit with tons of comments from my family as well as family friends regarding my vaping habits, and what vaping is doing to the “youth of today.” This was ramped up by the recent NYT article addressing this topic. While I’ve seen many people positively impacted by vaping as it helped them walk away from years of pack a day smoking, I know not everyone has witnessed the same events as me. I’ve seen all of the good that vaping has done for my friends and coworkers, yet others see vaping as negatively impacting impressionable generations. Now, to be clear I’m not advocating for vaping near children, encouraging children to vape, or prompting vaping to underage young adults, I am looking at vaping population that is comprised of legal adults able to make their own decisions. With all of the ongoing discussion regarding the concept of teen vaping, is it truly the crisis that many believe it to be? We turn now to the research to settle the social commentary.
The Past Research
To help understand the concern surrounding teen vaping I took a dive into the research that prompted a large portion of the discussion on the topic. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a 2016 report purporting to examing the impact of youth e-cigarette use. In this report, he posed that there had been a large increase in the number of teenagers that were using e-cigs.
How the industry is addressing this
The issue of teen vaping should raise questions, rightfully so but without the over reaction that is taking place. The vape industry as a whole is anti-underage consumption and always has been. Simply try to order a vape product from any major retailer online and you’ll more than likely find yourself cursing out the age verification process, it’s that stringent. So where are kids getting their vapes? Take a close look much closer to home. Gas stations, food shops, and even brick and mortar vape shops. It is jarring enough being an adult and having to go through age verification online, that should very well tell you these products they get their hands on are not coming from the internet. Rather your local business entities are to blame first and foremost for any kid who has a vape in their possession.
New Research, New Information
In response to the Surgeon General’s report, a group including Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, the world’s foremost expert on vapor science, published a critique re-evaluating the data as presented by Murthy’s office. Their conclusion, using the same data set, found that e-cig use was infrequent or experimental and negligible among youth who had never smoked. They further found that of the small contingent of youth vaping regularly, most were using liquids that did not contain nicotine. Also noteworthy is that the rise of vaping has coincided with the sharpest decline in US youth smoking rates on record.
The Murthy response ultimately concludes that “the U.S. Surgeon General’s claim that e-cigarette use among U.S. youth and young adults is an emerging public health concern does not appear to be supported by the best available evidence on the health risks of nicotine use and population survey data on prevalence of frequent e-cigarette use,” and that a future Surgeon General “should consider the possibility that future generations of young Americans will be less likely to start smoking tobacco because of, not in spite of, the availability of e-cigarettes.”
A Bit of Discourse
Underage vaping is not something I encourage, and I personally believe steps should be taken to ensure it does not occur. Many safety nets are currently in place, including age verification to view vape products online or to complete purchases. Even I found myself being “carded” for my first purchases and just about every subsequent purchase since. However, creating a state of panic and fear does more harm than good. Instead of creating a flood of fear and danger, we should focus on education and look at the real results of research – when considering US-based reporting a deep dive into the findings is particularly often warranted. As we look towards research-based arguments instead of emotionally charged ones, we can begin to create an environment that is better for everyone.