One of the mostly hotly debated topics in the world of electronic cigarettes is how vaping affects the next generation. It’s understandable to be concerned about our youth and what paths they will take based on the decisions we make as a society. That’s why I can’t very well blame anyone, even anti-vaping activists, for being genuinely concerned about any given topic that could affect young people. These are our children. These are the leaders of the future. So, let’s get that out of the way all right?
Good. That being said, the use (and one could say manipulation) of teen smoking in the campaign against electronic cigarettes has often been ridiculous. It’s sounded like pure scare tactics. The old “won’t you think of the children!” act that has been parodied time and again is something we’ve been hearing for years now, and those voices have only gotten louder.
Well, louder doesn’t mean you are right either. We’ve already written about teen smoking interest falsely being tied to ecigs, so readers of ECCR are more informed than most. But new studies come out all the time, and we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t cover them all and try to understand this puzzle of how ecigs fit into society.
Take this latest study that is being talked about in science and medical circles. It’s eye opening, but it leaves us with more questions at the same time. Let’s take a step back first and understand what we are looking at. In this study, researchers polled over 15,000 students about their vaping experiences. We’re talking about kids in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. These are exactly the teenagers people worry about when they tell you to think of the children.
The results showed that about 25% had tried vaping at least once in the past month. That figure dropped to 7% for those who had tried vaping more than once, but no more than five times, and 4% for those who had vaped at least a dozen times. But what was really interesting here is that over two thirds of those who have tried vaping did it only for the ecig flavors. That is, they were vaping without nicotine. This opens up quite the can of worms for us.
The Ecig Flavors Dilemma
Folks, we have a dilemma here. Now we know that the primary reason teenagers are trying vaping is for ecig flavors. In that survey, nicotine came in a distant second as the reason teens are vaping. Marijuana came in at a very low number for the reason they are vaping, so that could be seen as a silver lining here. But still, things aren’t that straightforward as far as how we understand the results and what their impact is.
Firstly, this is actually great news as far as the future of our kids’ ties to tobacco. What we hear the most concern about isn’t that kids are trying electronic cigarettes, it’s that it will lead them to start using traditional tobacco cigarettes. To be clear, it’s not the use of the product itself that concerns most; it’s the possibility that it would lead them to something else – smoking. Studies like these should wipe away those fears. The idea of Big Tobacco using vaping to lure in kids and get them to start smoking down the road doesn’t work if these kids aren’t attracted to nicotine.
But the second part of this equation is that kids are being drawn to vaping for ecig flavors and that’s still not the best news. Ideally, we don’t want our youth smoking OR vaping. It’s true that we would rather them vape than smoke, but if the option is none of the above then that’s what we would go for. So there is concern there.
Yet the real dilemma is the fact that ecig flavors have been found to be a key to many smokers making the switch to vapor. Yes, adults like flavors too, and being able to get their nicotine in a different way that doesn’t taste like an analogue cigarette is helpful. It disconnects the physical need with the flavor sensation. Adult smokers need their ecig flavors because they are quite simply changing their lives.
That puts us as a community in a bit of a pickle. Ecig flavors are important, but they may lure kids. Yes, at least these kids are taking in nicotine, but we still don’t want them vaping. In the end, it might be that compliance of existing laws is what will become paramount here. An increased effort to keep ecigarettes out of the hands of our teens is probably a better idea than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s the same reason we don’t outlaw alcohol because it can lead to drunk driving. We’ve been down the road of prohibition before and we know that doesn’t work. It leads to a black market, and that has it’s own dangers.
The more we know, the better decisions we’ll be able to make as a society. Let’s just hope that rational thinking prevails. Policy on electronic cigarettes needs to be created not from a place of fear, but from a place where the pros and cons for all groups can be weighed. Studies like this one may make the questions more confusing and the answers further away, but this is exactly the discussion we need to be having. And we’re sure there will be more like it, so brace yourselves.