In this crazy world that we live in where 13-year-olds are still taking up smoking – as they have for generations – some people are very concerned about banning e-juice with “kid-friendly” flavors. And some jurisdictions avoid that whole issue by making flavored e-liquid illegal.
Yes, it’s a crazy world we live in. Nobody wants minors taking up vaping, and most people don’t want those 13-year-olds smoking either. But if the kids can get cigarettes, the problem isn’t a lack of laws designed for their protection but a lack of enforcement. Teens find ways to get cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, so there’s little doubt that they will be any less successful if they want to take up vaping.
First of all, in most states you have to be 18 or even 21 to buy cigarettes, alcohol, and vaping products. It used to be 18 across the board, but the theory was that by raising the age to 19, we would be keeping alcohol out of our high schools. And then it was moved to 21 in 1998. And some kids rejoiced because now they could keep drinking illegally for a few more years. Seriously, I went to college, I know kids who thought that way, and I’ll bet kids still do.
In a 2010 study of drinking and driving, researchers found that where 61% of fatally injured drivers had a measurable level of alcohol before the drinking age was raised to 21 across the board, it had dropped to 31% by 1995. How much of this was due to raising the drinking age and how much of it was due to the work of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) is unknown, but it was successful.
Teen smoking has also been declining. According to Health & Human Services, the smoking rate among 12th graders was nearly 29% in the late 1970s and had dropped to 5.5% in 2015. Among 10th graders, the rate declined from a high of 18.3% to just 3.0%, and among 8th grades, from a peak of 10.4% to just 1.3%.
The level of drug use, prescription and otherwise, among teens was reported to be at an all-time low in 2016, with the exception of marijuana. This is fascinating because across the board the US has the highest level of illegal drug use in the world despite having the most punitive drug laws. Perhaps the kids are smarter than their parents in this regard.
Success, or on to the Next Menace?
So we’ve had a lot of success. Teens are far less likely to smoke, to use illegal drugs, and to drink and drive than in the past. This is all wonderful news.
Well, it was, until they decided that teen vaping is the new public health issue. More high school seniors have tried vaping than cigarettes according to several recent reports. Rather than rejoice that they’ve found something far less hazardous than smoking, the boogeyman of nicotine being a gateway to smoking and drug use is being postulated.
Some of us remember when marijuana was being pointed to as a gateway drug because those who used stronger drugs had also used pot. The reality is that over half of pot users never went on to stronger drugs. Where it may have been a gateway for some, for most it was not.
We don’t even have a beginning of meaningful research on whether vaping is a gateway to smoking and/or drug use, but the theory seems to be gaining traction. Who needs facts when you can just make assumptions?
Blame the Flavors, Not the Kids
The latest theory in the war on vaping is “kid friendly” flavors, as though teens are more likely to take up vaping if it’s flavored like their favorite candy or fruit or breakfast cereal or who knows what else. And that’s what’s under attack in one jurisdiction after another, a knee-jerk reaction rooted in the good desire to keep kids from vaping but the bad idea of controlling what flavors adults can vape.
The interesting thing is that most teens who vape are not using e-liquid with nicotine, which is what smokers use to break their desire for cigarettes. Instead, most teens who use e-cigs are vaping sweet and fruity flavored e-juice that doesn’t contain nicotine.
Well, there goes the “nicotine as a gateway” theory. Two-thirds of teen vapers are nicotine-free. Two-thirds of teen vapers are not at risk – not that there’s any scientific research yet showing that nicotine is a gateway drug.
You know, it has to cut both ways. If they can say that they have to regulate vaping because there are no scientific studies showing that it helps smokers quit or is less hazardous than smoking, we should ask for the same consideration of the “nicotine gateway” theory – until they have scientific evidence, they can’t use it as an argument against vaping.
Where Flavors Are Banned
Is anyone surprised that San Francisco is on the list of places that ban flavored e-cigarettes? This is a city that took the toys out of Happy Meals and taxes sugary drinks. And at the same time that they made vaping flavor-free, they also banned menthol and other flavored cigarettes – the first large US city with such a ban.
Sonoma, California beat them to it in 2015, two years before San Francisco.
The entire state of New Jersey is making a third attempt at banning flavored e-liquid. Let’s hope governor Chris Christie vetoes this as he did the previous two attempts.
But that’s nothing compared to what the FDA is suggesting: A nation-wide ban on flavored vaping product.
In most states, you have to be at least 18 to buy vaping supplies, and in many states, you have to be 21. The vaping industry targets adults, and most adults have favorite flavors from their childhood, so there are lots of candy-like, sugary, cereal-like, and fruity flavors of e-liquid out there. The vast majority of e-juice sold is to adults and contains nicotine because most vapers are former smokers, and people under 18 are banned from vape shops in most areas.
The kids who take up vaping are doing it for the flavor and mostly vape nicotine-free. We should be grateful that they have enough sense to do that, not that we want to sell into that market, but it’s a good sign. In many countries where vaping with nicotine is illegal, vaping without nicotine is okay.
We’re looking at two markets here: Former smokers who use nicotine to help them quit tobacco, and non-smokers who vape for the flavor.
Don’t let our governments take away your right to enjoy your favorite flavors because some teens are breaking the law. Instead, tell our governments that they need to enforce the laws they have before taking away your choice.
Big Brother, we are watching you!
Share your thoughts on flavor bans in the comments or in our Facebook group.
- E-Vapor Flavor Bans Deprive Adults of the Freedom to Choose, Vaper Rights
- The Effects of Minimum Legal Drinking Age 21 Laws on Alcohol-Related Driving in the United States, National Center for Biotechnology Information, April 2010
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