Media Hysteria Around Teen Vaping Falsely Suggests A Youth Epidemic

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

The media continues to crusade against electronic cigarettes with claims teen use is reaching epidemic levels, however, local evidence indicates the alarmist rhetoric is overblown.

Teachers and schools’ staff across the country are certainly grappling with teens’ growing popularity of e-cigarettes, but many officials are not seeing the explosion in youth use that media coverage suggests. Officials have not noticed a meaningful uptick in student use of vapor products, while they “are aware they are out there,” Illinois Quincy High School Assistant Principal for student services Bill Sanders said, the Herald-Whig reported.

School officials throughout the U.S. fear e-cigarettes, particularly small devices like the Juul, are normalizing tobacco use among the younger generation.

“I’m not naive enough to think it’s not around, but as far as a disciplinary standpoint, we’ve only had two instances of it this year,” Sanders told the Herald-Whig. “We just haven’t seen a huge increase in it, but we are aware they are out there.”

Media headlines continue promoting the debunked “gateway” theory that teen vaping leads to smoking and is creating a public health crisis in high schools, despite the unclear picture of teen e-cigarette use. A recent article from Denver 9NEWS headlined, “Pediatrician calls vaping a plague upon the teenage landscape.”

The overall teen vaping trend appears to greatly vary, while other schools say vapor product confiscations have sharply increased. Missouri Hannibal High School Principal Ted Sampson is having a similar experience as Sanders. “Our discipline for this has actually lessened this year in comparison to previous,” Sanders told the Herald-Whig.

Fears over teen vaping and an alleged gateway effect to smoking combustible cigarettes were reignited after the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, released Dec. 14, showed nearly 28 percent of teens admitted to trying a vape device within the previous year of the survey.

The results are more complex, however, with many students using vapes for marijuana, which function differently than a device delivering nicotine. More than 50 percent of students, who admitted vaping in the previous year, said they only used flavors not containing nicotine. Only 11 percent of 12th graders reported vaping nicotine in the survey.

The study revealed reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent in 2017 — down from 24.6 percent in 1997 — even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices spiked.

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Steve Birr

Vice Reporter

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