The Teen Vaping Smokescreen

Over the past few years, lawmakers from city halls to the U.S. Congress have pushed for more stringent regulations on electronic cigarettes and vaping products because they are falling into the hands of minors and have caused a vaping epidemic. For example, when testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, Janet Woodcock, Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Admiration (FDA), warned lawmakers that youths were using electronic cigarettes at “alarming levels,” going as far to suggest it had reached epidemic levels.

While this emotive line of argument may position lawmakers as defenders of children’s health, these regulatory hawks have crafted an elaborate smokescreen that will only deny consumers access to a proven harm reduction product that could save millions of lives each year and improve health outcomes for those seeking to quit smoking, as dozens of studies, including a new report by the American Consumer Institute, shows.

Over the last few years, federal regulators have imposed flavor bans on vapors, increased taxes on electronic smoking products, and prohibitions on where retailers can sell these goods.

Minor’s perceived use of electronic cigarettes has justified more onerous regulations at every level of government. For example, when Denver’s city council considered a flavor ban that the Mayor ultimately vetoed, its proponents used the specter of children vaping as justification. Similarly, at the federal level, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) cited the prospect of minors using electronic cigarettes to advocate for a federal ban on flavored electronic cigarettes.

While these onerous regulations intend to prevent minors from using electronic cigarettes, a public health outcome everyone should be advocating for, it is readily apparent that the teen vaping epidemic is nothing more than a smokescreen with no empirical foundations.

A recently released study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found a “significant decrease in the use across many substances,” including “vaped nicotine.” For example, among 8th graders, the number of children using electronic cigarettes had fallen to just 12.1%, down from 16.6% in 2020. Among 10th graders, that number had fallen to 19.5%, down from 30.7%.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found similar results. In December 2020, the CDC reported that 19.6% of high schoolers, or 3.02 million students, had used electronic cigarettes, down from approximately 30% in 2019. In addition, that number had fallen to just 4.7% among middle schoolers, down from around 11% in 2019.

Taken together, the statistics from the NIDA and CDC show that the use of electronic cigarettes is nowhere near epidemic levels, but the number of minors actively using these products is falling. Moreover, the number of minors using electronic cigarettes highlights the futile nature of these onerous regulations attempting to solve a problem that does not exist.

After recognizing that these regulations are predicated on fictional evidence, it is essential to consider what consumers will lose because of overregulation. First, studies routinely show that switching to electronic cigarettes could save millions of lives each year and improve health outcomes for those looking to quit. For example, a study from September 2021 found that for every 100 people using nicotine e‐cigarettes to stop smoking, 9 to 14 might successfully stop, compared with only 6 of 100 people using nicotine‐replacement therapy, 7 of 100 using nicotine‐free e‐cigarettes, or four of 100 people having no support or behavioral support only.”

Additionally, researchers from Georgetown University found there would be 6.6 million fewer deaths over a ten-year period by replacing cigarettes with electronic cigarettes. Fewer people would die simply because electronic cigarettes do not “contain cancer-causing tar,” unlike traditional combustible cigarettes.

Over regulating electronic cigarettes will put these proven harm reduction products out of the reach of consumers who could benefit from them.

While preventing minors from accessing electronic cigarettes is an admirable public health goal, the specter of teen vaping should not be used to justify more onerous government regulation. Not only are such arguments based on incorrect data, but they could lead to American consumers being denied access to a harm reduction product that will help millions quit and save millions of lives. It is time to follow the evidence and retire the teen vaping epidemic myth.

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