Is There a Teen Vaping Crisis?

The Government is introducing a range of measure to protect children from nicotine addiction. The media would have you believe that there is an “epidemic” of teen vaping, and some prohibitionists would like you to worry that 50% of children are sucking down vapour laden with lead and other heavy metals. But what is the true scale of the problem?

Teen vaping is “a fake crisis”
Brad Rodu is a Professor of Medicine and a member of the James Graham Brown Cancer Centre at the University of Louisville. He’s been working for twenty-seven years researching and developing policy related to tobacco harm reduction.
Brad has a contentious opinion; he believes in tobacco harm reduction. In his words: “There are millions of smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit with conventional cessation methods involving tobacco and nicotine abstinence, and we encourage them to use cigarette substitutes that are far safer.”

Commenting on “the so-called American teen vaping ‘epidemic’,” Brad declares the scale of the problem completely overblown, pointing out: “Using federal data, I have shown how the CDC and the FDA exaggerate the magnitude of vaping, portraying a fake crisis.”
Brad has previously praised the UK for being honest about its figures for teen vaping, displaying rates similar to the United States, because we have traditionally reported it honestly and applied reasonable interpretation to the figures.

“The data for the two countries are fairly similar, the biggest difference being how American and British authorities, and the media, have responded.”
But this changed over the course of the last 12 months.

The media coverage
The way the coverage of vaping has changed over the last year has been shocking. Ignoring ASH’s call for balance and to stick to facts, articles have become even more extreme – relying on the input of non-experts, cranks, and paid-for prohibitionist lobby groups.
This is a very brief example of the hysteria being whipped up:

·“Teenage vaping: ‘I’ll have puffs as I’m falling asleep’” – The BBC
·“Vaping has created a toxic monster – here’s what your children are inhaling” – The Telegraph
·“Number of children trying vaping rises 50% in a year in ‘tide of experimentation’” – Sky
·“UK health expert raises alarm at vaping ‘epidemic’ among teenagers” – The Guardian
·“Girl, 12, put into induced coma after vaping” – The Independent

The first article is an unreliable anecdote, the second is an outright collection of lies, the third misrepresents the findings of ASH’s survey, the fourth reports on the opinions of a non-expert in the subject and repeats the same misrepresentation Sky offered, and the final one is complete nonsense without any medical confirmation of the mother’s claims.

Professor Rodu no longer rushes to praise the UK media coverage.

The industry is taking positive steps
Last year, Marcus Saxton, Chair of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, told ITV: “Recent negative headlines about vaping are seriously impacting people’s understanding and perceptions with a record number now believing it is as dangerous as tobacco.
“Unchecked, this growing confusion risks jeopardising the positive work that vaping has achieved in the last decade and will deny smokers and ex-smokers a proven and positive quit aid, risking 2 in 3 lifetime tobacco users suffering death by a smoking related cause.”

The Independent British Vape Trade Association launched a major education campaign, “to challenge some of the inaccuracies and to provide reassurance around the benefits of switching to vaping whilst detailing what we as a responsible sector are doing to address recent concerns around, for example, youth access prevention and the environment.”

It is remarkable how little news coverage this got compared to the invented shock horror stories.

Similar to Canada
What is overlooked is the smoking rate for teens. In the UK, the teen smoking rate had stalled in the 20%s for years and no amount of health promotion campaign was making a dent. Then, at the same time vaping took off in the country, the teen smoking rate nose-dived.
It is impossible to say that vaping led to this, but it has been remarked upon by numerous academics. In a major paper, vapes were believed to have caused a crash in teen smoking on a global scale.

Dr John Oyston is a retired Chief of Anaesthesiology at The Scarborough Hospital. He marvels at the eagerness for the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Lung Association to attack safer alternatives to smoking.

The real picture of teen vaping from ASH’s figures
ASH release an annual update to their ongoing study “Use of e-cigarettes among young people in Great Britain” each June.
It is true, the much-heralded figure is a 50% rise in the number of teens “experimenting” with vapes, but that hid a deeper set of truths – something people ideologically opposed to vaping didn’t want to mention. If the total number of children vaping was two, a 50% rise means one more child. Drilling down into the data wasn’t something news organisations or prohibitionists were keen to do; 50% is a nice shock headline figure.

20.5% of children had tried vaping – that doesn’t mean regularly do it, that means tried it once. Of those children, over half of them never touched a vape ever again. Only 7.6% admitted to “currently vaping” and, of those, only 3.6% say they vaped “more than once per week”.
So, rather than a 50%, the true figure for the articles talking about children vaping should have been 3.6%. Then, from this figure, it should have been pointed out that most of this tiny group of children were either smokers or ex-smokers.

So, why is the government attacking vaping?
All of the Government’s recent actions on vaping have been lumped together as a package of measures to “protect children”. In truth, it’s has been built around an emotive lie and a distortion of the evidence ASH has amassed, but it is not alone in this – the same arguments and actions are being carried out around the world by politicians who see this as an easy win in the eyes of parents who are voters. No politician wins votes by declaring a war on children!
The reality is that nobody wants children to take up nicotine products, but some will experiment. The real number of those doing so is very small and the evidence shows that they appear to be adopting lower risk nicotine products such as pouches and vapes rather than cigarettes – and smoking rates have fallen as a result. There is no evidence to support claims that there is an “epidemic”. Meanwhile, the industry will continue to be responsible and not sell to under-age buyers, putting in place top notch age detection systems.

Something to watch for the future, the evidence also shows that where flavours or vape products are restricted, smoking rates in teens increases again. Whether this will happen in the UK following Government bans on disposables and certain flavours remains to be seen.