Restrictions on vaping are often predicated on the idea that they protect children and teenagers from a vaping “epidemic.” Despite the claim of an “epidemic,” fewer teens are vaping now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with falling teen vaping rates, regulators are slow to approve and quick to ban vaping products for adult consumers, making it more difficult for smokers to quit and removing a choice that could help them live longer, healthier lives.
One argument made to justify the heavy-handed regulations on vaping products is that vaping may be a gateway to cigarettes for teens. However, the evidence shows that vaping has done the opposite. Teen vaping rates did rise from 2012 to 2019, but teen smoking rates also plummeted, leaving the combined total nearly the same. Despite almost the same total use rate, the switch means far less harm done, given that vaping is only 5 percent as harmful as smoking. In fact, smoking rates among high school seniors dropped from 19.5 percent of students to only 3.4 percent.
While teens shouldn’t vape or smoke, the problem of underage use is not new. The only difference is vaping is not as damaging as ignition-based smoking. While still not ideal, as addictive substances like nicotine influence the development of teenagers’ brains, more can and should be done to enforce existing laws against youth access to nicotine products. However, limiting or banning vapes doesn’t remove the problem of youth nicotine use. It pushes those kids that slip through the cracks back to cigarettes, a far more harmful option.
Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration and many state regulators either limit or ban vaping products outright, often to protect kids. Despite good intentions, such restrictions not only create harmful incentives for teens to return to ignition-based products but also create problems for adults by limiting their options to quit smoking.
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Justin Leventhal is a senior policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow ACI on Twitter @ConsumerPal.