Regulators Push Debunked Gateway Theory To Control Vaping

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

New restrictions on vapor products will soon be implemented in an Illinois community following fierce public debate over whether to include electronic cigarettes under tobacco rules.

The Village Board in Mundelein, Ill., voted Tuesday to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21. The age hike on cigarettes, which will be implemented March 1, will also apply to vaping devices, products that heat liquid nicotine and contain no tobacco. Local vape shop owners appealed to the board members for an exemption, arguing their products are a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco and are helping smokers quit, reports the Daily Herald.

Lea Bacci, an assistant prevention coordinator with the Lake County Health Department, dismissed the arguments of small business owners, claiming vaping is a “gateway product” for nicotine addiction. The anti-vaping narrative was enough to get the age hike the four votes needed to pass.

“I think the government is stepping in and doing too much right now,” board member Dawn Abernathy, who voted against the measure, said Tuesday, according to the Daily Herald. “It is only going to have them go to neighboring towns to purchase cigarettes.”

Public health officials at the state and local levels across the country continue to spread the debunked narrative that smoking alternatives like vaping, which they claim are increasing in popularity with kids, will serve as a “gateway” to regular tobacco use. Nationally, the number of teens using any tobacco product declined from 4.7 million to 3.9 million and the number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ample research proves that vaping devices drastically reduce the harm caused by cigarettes, because the majority of cancer causing chemicals are released through combustion of tobacco. Public health experts agree that efforts to reduce tobacco use are admirable, however, they argue those efforts are bolstered, not undermined, by vaping devices.

For young adult smokers, these policies cut off their access to a more effective cessation method, forcing them instead to either keep smoking or use federally approved cessation products like patches and gum.

Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes, namely that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of American smokers quit combustible tobacco. Roughly 2.62 million former smokers were using a vape in 2016.

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Steve Birr

Vice Reporter

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