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teen vaping part 2

Teen Vaping Part 2: How Politics and Ideology Drive the Debate

In the first part of this post, I covered the state of the scientific evidence on a gateway effect in some detail. If you missed it, the CliffNotes version is that there’s no good evidence for a gateway effect, and while we can make a strong case against the claims, there is no evidence that can thoroughly refute it either.


Basically everything about teen vaping is blown out of proportion at every turn. We’re spun a tale of epidemics, gateways and “a new generation hooked on nicotine,” and yet less than three in out of every thousand never-smoking teens are regular vapers and the youth smoking rate continues to fall. The concern is way beyond what the evidence justifies.


So why do we hear about it all so much? Why did Vivek Murthy’s Surgeon General’s report focus on the issue of teen vaping almost entirely?


Because politics and ideology drive the debate, not the science.


Gateway claims don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re a weapon in an ongoing debate between the people who want to embrace vaping and people who want to crush it. Like the claims that marijuana use somehow compels you to use heroin later down the line, the gateway effect is used in the vaping debate because even without evidence of significant risk from the actual behavior in question, if you can link it to doing something definitely harmful in future, you don’t need the evidence of risk.


With the shoddy state of the evidence on the topic, this desire to score political points in the ongoing debate ultimately explains why we’re having this conversation. But by pushing the gateway issue so strongly, the Surgeon General and U.S. anti-vaping groups overall are casting an important portion of the population aside. By screaming “think of the children!” so often, they’re pushing adult smokers into the background.


Along with Carl V. Phillips and Michael Siegel – who offered their thoughts on the scientific issues in the last part – we’ve caught up with Nick “Grimm” Green (who you can keep up with at and on YouTube), Morten Moe (who runs The Vaping Giraffe) and Steve K. (from Steve K.’s Vaping World) to get their thoughts on the broader debate and a much-needed perspective from adults who switched from smoking to vaping.  


Why Hasn’t the Right Research Been Done?


If you read the last part, you’ll know that the evidence we have so far on gateway effects – and to a lesser extent, the teen vaping data altogether – isn’t really good enough. Key questions are missing from surveys, and even if they’re asked, the answers may not be reported. Gateways are conjured up out of data showing experimentation. Most importantly of all, the studies we actually need to come up a good answer to the gateway question simply haven’t been conducted.


But if the gateway effect was real, it would be a pretty serious problem. Kids would genuinely be starting to smoke – and possibly continuing throughout their life – all because they tried vaping and it flicked some type of neurological switch and changed them forever. There’d be addiction, lung cancer and a lot of suffering. People would die.


Looked at like this, fact that the data is so poorly-collected and the problem so woefully investigated should be a scandal. Why hasn’t somebody just paid for a reliable piece of research that could actually bring some objectivity to the debate?


I asked Carl V. Phillips why he thought the research hadn’t been done, and he gave a detailed response (only partially quoted here – keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post on Anti-THR Lies for the whole thing):


Carl V. Phillips - Anti THR LiesThat has answers at several levels. First, we are talking about public health research here, where there is basically no incentive to do decent science. The rewards (employment, funding, news coverage) are the same for doing a simplistic junk science study as for putting in the effort to do a complicated genuinely truth-seeking study. It is no more difficult to publish junk than it is to publish good work in public health. Indeed, it might be easier.


Second, the anti-tobacco researchers are worse than average, in terms of scientific skills, even compared to the low standards of public health. Moreover, they know they can get anything published and into the news (which is how they really earn their pay) if it has the right conclusions, regardless of how absurd their analysis is.


Third, for this particular area of research, pretty much no one actually cares about seeking the truth. Anti-tobacco activists want to say there is a gateway effect, to denigrate e-cigarettes. Pro-ecig activists want to say there is no substantial gateway effect, to fight back. (That was being charitable, by the way; the typical claim is that there is no gateway effect, which is absurd.) Both groups cite statistics that, for the most part, do not support their claim at all. This is a rare area of the tobacco wars where critics of tobacco control are almost as unscientific as the tobacco controllers.

– Carl V. Phillips (Anti-THR Lies)


Carl also adds an observation which is relevant for any debate around tobacco harm reduction, but particularly so with regards to gateway claims and counter-claims:


Carl V. Phillips - Anti THR LiesI suggested in my recent year-end post that the debate around e-cigarettes (like the debate about other tobacco products) has substantially entered a post-truth era: the rhetoric in the fight is largely unconstrained by science, and the “research” is just designed to produce rhetoric.



– Carl V. Phillips (Anti-THR Lies)



Bluntly put, the reason we don’t have the studies to answer the question appears to be because few people really even care about the reality of the gateway effect. People opposed to vaping want something vaguely resembling science to point to in support of their rhetoric, and we vapers want something to point at to shut them up. The science doesn’t need to be robust for that, so why go to the effort?


Precaution vs. Pragmatism in the Vaping Debate


With the scientific evidence still being pretty limited on the topic and few people apparently caring, we need to take a step back to really understand what’s going on here.


The important thing is how the concerns about teen vaping fit in with the broader debate about vaping. Although this is a highly simplified explanation, the two approaches to the vaping issues can be described as precautionary and pragmatic.


The precautionary view is championed in the US, where the potential risks of vaping take precedence, and the main concerns appear to be stopping non-smokers from starting to vape and encouraging smokers to quit using approved pharmaceutical products rather than unapproved vaping devices.


The pragmatic view is dominant in the UK, where both Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians promoted vaping despite both acknowledging the same thing as American public health establishment: that e-cigarettes are not entirely safe. The key difference is that by explicitly acknowledging that e-cigarettes are substantially safer than smoking (something rarely done in the US), the authors of these reports made a recommendation on pragmatic grounds. While e-cigarettes aren’t perfect, it’s much safer to vape than to smoke, and therefore the potential is there for huge public health benefits if vaping is encouraged.


This difference is crucial to the way concerns about teen vaping are presented in the respective countries. In the UK, the concerns about teens are considered in the context of explicitly-acknowledged benefits to adult smokers. This invites scrutiny of any gateway claims and any actions proposed to prevent teens from vaping, because any potential benefits of such actions have to be weighed against the likely downsides to adult smokers. Both the costs and benefits have to be quantified and examined before sensible action can be taken.


In the US, things are quite different. The precautionary attitude makes protecting people who could be harmed by e-cigarettes the priority, with little to no consideration for the people they could help. The messaging stresses that vaping isn’t completely safe, not that it’s much safer than smoking. Teens who don’t smoke are the main target for such statements, but they reach everyone and cause widespread misunderstanding of the relative risks of vaping and smoking.


I asked Carl V. Phillips and Michael Siegel whether they think the concern about teen vaping is the reason for the skewed communication of the risks and benefits of vaping in the US:


Michael Siegel - the Rest of the StoryI think that is part of it. But I think it is deeper than that. I think that e-cigarettes represent a huge threat to the anti-tobacco establishment because it conflicts with our underlying ideology. How can something which looks like smoking and involves getting pleasure from nicotine possibly be a good thing? How can we possibly encourage such a thing? The ideology is so strong that the science doesn’t matter. I think this is what is creating this huge bias against e-cigarettes and leading to a profound misinterpretation of the scientific evidence.

– Michael Siegel (The Rest of the Story)


Carl V. Phillips - Anti THR LiesNo doubt pursuit of that goal makes the disinformation somewhat worse. But I suspect it would not be much different even if that were not an issue. Tobacco controllers want to discourage all tobacco product use, regardless of its benefits, and they control almost all the money and media in this space. Even if kids were magically prevented from ever vaping, the disinformation campaigns and attacks on adults’ liberty would still exist.


– Carl V. Phillips (Anti-THR Lies)


Both acknowledge that while the concern about teen vaping likely encourages the misinformation, it exists independently of it too. It comes down to ideology rather than a genuine concern for teens, although the concern definitely contributes.


Protecting the Kids vs. Informing the Adults: Is There a Conflict?


It seems like the ideal situation for communicating the science on vaping is to provide useful information about comparative risks to adult smokers while still offering enough information on potential risks to discourage non-mokers, particularly youths. However, can we even accomplish this, or do the two goals intrinsically conflict with each other?


Michael Siegel takes an optimistic view:


Michael Siegel - the Rest of the StoryThere is no inherent conflict. There are policies we can adopt that embrace e-cigarettes as a harm reduction strategy for smokers, yet apply safeguards to help discourage youth from vaping. Sales and marketing restrictions, for example, make sense, and can be implemented at the same time that we encourage adult smokers to switch to vaping. This is not an either-or situation.


– Michael Siegel (The Rest of the Story)


While Carl V. Phillips looks at the situation from an economic perspective and comes to a different conclusion:


Carl V. Phillips - Anti THR LiesIt is an inherent conflict. It is simple economics. If we increase the net quality of the products (better devices, attractive flavors, affordable prices) or the perceived quality by increasing people’s knowledge (knowing it is low-risk), it makes it more attractive for everyone. If we lower the net quality or hide information it is going to make it less attractive for everyone.


Of course, if there were a way to make the products differentially appealing, that could create a wedge between these (though this would not be sufficient to say it should be done). So, for example, if the myth that particular flavors are more appealing to teens were true, that would offer ways to drive a small wedge. But there is not even a small wedge apparent to those of us in the reality-based world, let alone a big one. It turns out that teenagers are remarkably similar to people.

– Carl V. Phillips (Anti-THR Lies)


Which side of this you come down on is really a matter of perspective. For me personally, while I would like to think that truthful information would have the desired effect, and although I agree with Michael Siegel’s point that restrictions can be put in place to discourage teen vaping while we continue encouraging smokers to switch, the economic argument is too strong to discount entirely. Just like messages designed to scare non-smokers have the unfortunate side effect on confusing smokers, it seems hard to deny that messages designed to encourage smokers won’t also reach and influence non-smoking adults and teens.


So What Should We Do About Teen Vaping?


Although pre-existing views will often influence people’s interpretation of the scientific evidence and their view on the teen vaping issue overall, most of the political elements of the discussion come into play when we’re talking about what we should do about teen vaping. How do we minimize teen vaping? Should we do anything it takes to discourage teens from vaping, or should we carefully weigh the potential benefits against the risks for adult smokers?


Policy suggestions intended to accomplish these goals can be quite varied, but generally include banning sales to minors, increasing taxes on vaping products, placing restrictions on e-cigarette marketing and restricting specific flavors. Bans on sales to minors are both widespread and broadly supported across both sides of the debate, so we can focus on the latter three suggestions.


Will Banning Specific E-Liquid Flavors Stop Youth From Vaping? Will It Affect Smokers?


The suggestion most in-line with the standard gateway narrative is to ban the flavors that sound like they appeal to youths. From the previous part of this post, two things are clear. The first is that flavors appeal to teens who try vaping. The second is that flavors also appeal to adult smokers looking to switch to the safer alternative. The question is whether the potential reduction in teen vaping is worth the impact it will have on smokers trying to quit.


We asked the vapers we spoke to what flavor they were currently vaping, and the results are right in line with what other surveys of vapers have found: they tend to like sweeter, potentially child-appealing flavors:


Steve K - Steve K's Vaping WorldCurrently I vape a DIY strawberry-banana flavor.  Flavors were huge for me switching over.  I vastly preferred fruit flavors over the disgusting tobacco flavors available at the time.



– Steve K. (Steve K.’s Vaping World)


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeI’ve been doing reviews of e-liquids on my blog for quite a while now so I’ve tried a lot of different flavours. On a usual day I tend to switch between 3-4 different flavours, usually 1 or 2 of my old time favorites and 1 or 2 new ones. Today I have with me my all time favorite juice that is kind of a licorice custard blend, I have some blueberry cream muffin and some orange creamsicle.


– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


Nick Green - GrimmGreenSweet desert flavors are usually my main vape. Candy/ sweet/ bakery for sure. I just find them so much more enjoyable than tobacco. Flavors like these also help me mentally distance vaping from smoking.



– Nick “Grimm” Green (


Steve and Nick’s comments in particular really exemplify the key issue with bans on flavors. Steve, like many other vapers, needed the range of e-liquid flavors – including ones that sound like they could appeal to youth – to step away from smoking and make a positive change in his life. Nick similarly speaks of “mentally distancing” vaping from smoking through sweeter flavors. I asked him what role flavors had in him making the switch to vaping and the answer was just as you’d expect:


Nick Green - GrimmGreenI would say they played a huge role.  I started off with tobacco and clove type of flavors.  And while fine, I didn’t truly fall in love with vaping until I had my first green apple flavor, and cola flavored e-liquids.



– Nick “Grimm” Green (


But Morten makes the point most clearly and explicitly:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeI, as many others, started out vaping using tobacco flavored e-liquid. However I quickly moved to other flavors and I’m certain that this has kept me from relapsing to cigarette smoking. In my opinion flavors is one, if not the most important factor in the success of the e-cigarettes. It is one of the things that makes the vaping experience better than the smoking experience, adding another dimension to the user experience rather than taking something away like other NRTs do. That is why they are so much more successful in my opinion, and flavors play a huge role in this.

– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


Anybody who thinks that banning such flavors is worth it for the benefit they assume it will have on teen vaping needs to think long and hard about people like Morten, Steve, Nick and many others.


When we know that flavors are an important factor for many adult smokers, the question is whether it will really have much of an effect on teen vaping at all, and whether that effect will outweigh the benefits to smokers.


When I asked whether flavor bans could be justified to protect teens, the answers were firm:


Steve K - Steve K's Vaping WorldAbsolutely not!  The idea that adults somehow don’t like things that taste good (and maybe even remind them of their childhood) is absurd.




– Steve K. (Steve K.’s Vaping World)


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeQuite simply, NO. The argument that some flavors are enjoyed only by kids is just silly. Adults enjoy candy and ice-cream just as much as the average kid, the only difference is that as we grow older our daily activities change quite a bit and we learn that we cannot keep eating all this delicious goodies or our health will suffer from it.


– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


The problems flavor bans would create for vapers and smokers are pretty clear, but one thing does need stressing more often: there is very little reason to think banning flavors would reduce teen vaping.


As was laid out in the companion post looking at the science behind gateway claims, although teens who vape do like flavors, there are many other reasons they vape. Like adults, teens tend to vape for harm reduction purposes rather than for the flavors (even though they are tasty), and since regular vaping is very rare among non-smoking teens, this is likely the most important reason. Banning specific flavors won’t stop this use, nor will it stop teens vaping for the clouds, to do vaping tricks or as a way to express their growing independence.


Simple solutions like “banning e-liquid flavors will stop teen vaping” are appealing because they’re so easy to understand, but things are rarely that simple. Throw in the negative effects this would have on adult smokers and it’s clear that flavor bans – like the one proposed in New Jersey – will be ultimately harmful, not helpful.


Will Restricting E-Cigarette Marketing Stop Teen Vaping?


After flavors, the next big target of the politically-motivated gateway claims is e-cigarette companies’ marketing. The claim – addressed in the previous part of the post – is that e-cigarette companies market to teens, and that restricting their marketing will therefore stop teens from vaping.


The only problem is that while people say this a lot, you rarely see examples of these ads that supposedly appeal to minors. I asked Morten if he recalled any examples from his time as a reviewer:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeI can’t recall any right now, no. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen though, there will always be irresponsible people and companies out there, but in general I’d say the vaping industry has been very responsible when it comes to this.



– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


This is in line with my experience, and though there are some examples we’ll get onto in a moment, it’s important to understand the real reason you hear this claim so much, as Morten explains:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeThe reason this claim is so often used is that it is an effective way of convincing people that know nothing about vaping that they should take a stand against it. And most people know nothing about it, so it is important to convince this group if you want to get the majority to share your views (which is quite important in a democracy wouldn’t you say). It is however kind of a dirty trick, I mean who doesn’t want the best for their kids? It’s a very effective way of winning people over by making them believe that the vaping industry will go after their kids.

– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


This is a great point that goes far beyond the concerns about marketing: it really explains why we hear so much about teen vaping overall. It isn’t based on an objective analysis of the facts; it’s based on a desire to have the biggest impact on the listener, not through the strength of the evidence, but through the emotional weight of the issue. 


For marketing specifically, the claim feeds into the narrative of “Big Tobacco” trying to create “a new generation of nicotine addicts,” hitting on well-founded concerns about the tobacco industry and parents’ understandable desire to protect their children.


The reality, just like with flavorings, is that there are many reasons a teen might start vaping, and assuming that restricting e-cigarette marketing will have a significant impact is oversimplifying the issue, to say the least.


Do Some E-Liquid Bottles Justify Concerns About Marketing to Teens?


As Steve K. mentions, though, even if the concern isn’t about specific ads, there is something we should all take issue with:


Steve K - Steve K's Vaping World

I don’t recall specific ads, but I have seen packaging that makes me cringe.


– Steve K. (Steve K.’s Vaping World)


And he’s definitely right. The number of e-liquids in particular with irresponsible packaging is startling, as Dr. Farsalinos points out in a recent blog post.


The vapers are all in general agreement about (often copyrighted) children’s TV characters being used on e-liquid bottles:


Steve K - Steve K's Vaping WorldThose are the type of things that make my blood boil. Companies doing that are either completely stupid or indeed are opportunists trying to do nefarious things. They are violating copyright and trademark, and co-opting marketing that was designed for children in many cases.


So, even if a company that does this thing isn’t trying to market to kids, they end up doing something that looks exactly like that because they stole marketing geared toward kids.


There is no place in the vaping industry for these types of disreputable activities.

– Steve K. (Steve K.’s Vaping World)


Nick Green - GrimmGreenEven if the entire vaping industry wasn’t being scrutinized by the world, this would still be a horrible practice.  As a graphic designer it’s laziness offends me.  As a vaper it’s irresponsibility offends me.



– Nick “Grimm” Green (


In my question, I specifically mentioned two examples I’ve seen: the use of Curious George and the Smurfs, and Morten makes an important point regarding them. When asked if such e-liquids justified concerns about companies appealing to kids, he responded:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeNot necessarily. Some might while others are actually trying to use nostalgia to appeal to adults. Just have a look at the examples you gave. I’m not familiar with Curious George (I’ve heard the name), I guess it was never a big thing in Norway, but a quick Google search tells me this is a character from 1941. I remember the Smurfs from my childhood though.


I’m a bit more skeptical towards using newer cartoons though… like the Minions. I do not actually think that by using such characters they are trying to target kids, I mean I love the minions more than my own kids do, but they could attract kids attention. A lot of these new animation characters and movies are quite clever and appeal to both kids and grown ups mixing more sophisticated humor and references to the adult world with slapstick humor that will have your kids rolling on the floor. Ok, I admit it, I like the slapstick as well.

– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


 Yet again, it isn’t so simple that critics of vaping can just say: “see! A kids’ cartoon! They’re marketing to minors!” However, while the appeal to nostalgia can explain some instances, there are many cases we can all agree is at very least irresponsible.


Using children’s characters, particularly modern ones that kids these days will be familiar with, is something no e-liquid company should do. Not only does it make the vaping industry on the whole look bad, and give ammunition to the people who want to bring it down, it also specifically puts your own products in the firing line. 


Should We Raise Taxes to Stop Teens From Vaping?


Another approach considered by states and others looking to reduce the numbers of teens who vape is to raise the price of e-cigarettes through taxation.


The benefit of this is obvious: teens don’t have as much money as adults, so raising the cost of vaping will make it less likely they’ll be able to afford to even try vaping. But the downside is just as obvious: making vaping more expensive will also reduce the cost-benefit of switching for adult smokers.


So on the face of it, working out whether this would be beneficial is quite straightforward: will it stop more teens vaping than it would hinder smokers switching? Given that almost all regular vapers (under 18 or above) are smokers or ex-smokers, the benefits seem highly unlikely to outweigh the costs.


But the question of taxes brings with it a definitive benefit for the ones collecting the taxes. The issue is one of “sin taxes,” and the vapers we spoke to were pretty critical of this approach:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeJust a cheap trick again, using the “think about the children”-argument to avoid admitting that you fucked up and made yourself dependent on sin taxes. Once a state or a country is dependent on a sin tax, they will start losing income if people stop being sinners. That’s when the real motives behind their action appear.



– Morten Moe (the Vaping Giraffe)


Steve K - Steve K's Vaping WorldIt’s a cash grab to attempt to make up for the shortfalls in sin taxes on actual cigarettes.  In many cases those funds didn’t go to helping kids anyway.


In cases where they did, they essentially are relying on people to smoke to fund the programs.  How cynical is that?

– Steve K. (Steve K.’s Vaping World)


The problem with calls to raise taxes on vaping to “protect the children” is that they’re indistinguishable from cynical attempts to raise money from people trying to quit. If that increase in price does discourage smokers from making the switch, it seems pretty difficult to defend.


Yet again, though, our knee-jerk reactions aren’t always completely fair. Saving money is a big factor in making the switch for some vapers, but as Nick points out, there is more to the decision for adult smokers too:


Nick Green - GrimmGreenCost was never a determining factor for making the switch for me. In my experience vaping has always been a touch more expensive, which is to be expected. Developing technology like this isn’t going to be free. I was desperate to quit smoking, and would have paid extra money, if it meant getting a quality item that would have helped me accomplish that.


– Nick “Grimm” Green (


Most vapers will be able to rattle off counter-examples of people they know who did switch to vaping because they save money that way, but Nick’s view is actually more common than you might think.


A survey of 19,000 vapers from Dr. Farsalinos asked them about how important various factors were in encouraging them to start vaping. On a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (most important) quitting smoking and protecting people from second-hand smoke were the two most widely-endorsed reasons, with average scores of 5 and 4, respectively, but saving money was less so, with a score of 3 on average.


Overall, raising the cost of vaping through taxes probably would cut teens vaping, and while it would impact some smokers, the truth is that many have more important motivations for making the switch. However, all taxes on vaping are ultimately “sin taxes,” regardless of the justification given, and there is a strong moral case that these shouldn’t apply to a harm reduction product.


So What Should We Do to Reduce Teen Vaping?


The most commonly-suggested approaches to reducing teen vaping have some unintended consequences, ranging from the obvious and apparently significant downsides of restricting flavors to the less certain impacts of price increases on adult smokers looking to switch. And in most cases, it isn’t really clear that they’d make much of a dent in teen vaping at all.


So what should we do about it?


Michael Siegel has three clear suggestions:


Michael Siegel - the Rest of the StoryThree things. First, restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Second, restrictions on advertising of e-cigarettes in a way that appeals differentially to minors. Third, education campaigns that teach students the truth about e-cigarettes: what they are, what they are intended for, and what they are not. Specifically, there are non-tobacco products that simulate smoking with the primary intention of helping smokers to quit.


– Michael Siegel (the Rest of the Story)


But other people we spoke to have some reservations. Both Carl V. Phillips and Morten Moe bring up some interesting points about whether discouraging teen vaping is really the right thing to do at all:


Carl V. Phillips - Anti THR LiesEvery political discussion is predicated on the assumption they should be discouraged from vaping. This is far from self-evident, but no serious analysis of the question ever takes place.


The most obvious argument against the assumption is that there are enough protective types [who would have started smoking if vaping hadn’t been available] among teenagers that the resulting reduction in smoking initiation will outweigh any downsides. A bolder, but still prima facie legitimate, argument is that it is not obvious there are sufficient downsides of the behavior to warrant any actions, at least not beyond just banning sales to minors. Bolder still is the argument that the benefits of nicotine for a subset of teenagers are quite large, and they should be using it (note the explosion in the use of nasty prescription stimulants over the period where teenage smoking decreased).


Oh, and your question implies the assumption that smoking teens should not be discouraged [from vaping], which also does not go without saying. Obviously a lot of people seem to feel otherwise (though they rarely even attempt to articulate a normative argument for their position).


My point here is not to endorse or dispute any of those possible positions, but to note that there is no serious discussion of what the basis for that ‘should’ should even be.

– Carl V. Phillips (Anti-THR Lies)


Morten references a post on his blog, and expands with the comment:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeIt is not necessarily in our interest to minimize the number of teens starting to vape. I know this is kind of controversial, but as long as teens start to vape instead of initiating a cigarette smoking habit this is something we actually want to happen. Kids have always experimented, and will always do that. If they can do this in a 95% safer way I’d say we’ve accomplished something huge.


Of course I do not want kids that would not normally have started smoking to start vaping, but to be honest I do not see that happening in a large scale. This will probably happen on rare occasions but considering the fact that nicotine in the absence of tobacco is not very addictive it is not something that worries me. Both my personal experience and stories I’ve read shows that the vast majority of teens that starts vaping, without having smoked before (yes, it happens), will just quit. They seem to just grow tired of it and they don’t have the money to continue either. Which also shows that sin taxes to protect the children is just an excuse so they don’t have to pay for their earlier mistakes.

– Morten Moe (The Vaping Giraffe)


And Carl continues:


Carl V. Phillips - Anti THR LiesOne thing that is clear is that, at worst, teenage vaping is just one of hundreds of little things that kids might think are a good idea but their elders might realize are not. It is hard to imagine any knowledgeable parents being nearly as worried about their kids vaping as about them driving dangerously, getting pressured into ill-advised sex, drinking, not trying in school, smoking weed, not exercising, and numerous other hazards of adolescence. Actual vaping (as opposed to just trying an e-cigarette a few times) is also far less common that those more serious hazards. The breathless swooning about teenage vaping, which is responsible for the concocting of gateway claims, is all a product of a small group of anti-tobacco fanatics who consider it a moral affront that anyone (adult or teenager) uses the products.

– Carl V. Phillips (Anti-THR Lies)


Again, an issue which seems so simple at face value is thorny and complex. While Michael Siegel’s recommended approaches are hard to disagree with, the points both Carl and Morten make about the potential benefits of vaping to teens who smoke (or who would otherwise) are definitely thought-provoking.


Most people can get behind bans on sales to minors and honest educational campaigns, but do we really even need to do anything beyond that? The still-declining smoking rate and the rarity of regular vaping among non-smoking teens makes it seem like the answer could genuinely be “no.”


 How to Talk to Your Own Kids About Vaping


The issues of what we should do to reduce teen vaping, the downsides of suggested approaches and whether we should be worried at all make it clear that from a public health perspective, there is a lot to consider if you want to minimize harm. But for many people concerned about teen vaping, the issue isn’t a society-wide one; it’s much closer to home. What about your kids? What should you tell them about vaping? What should you do if you catch them vaping?


Morten and Steve gave the same basic advice on talking about vaping to your kids: honesty is key. But both come at it from different angles. Steve’s kids are young, but he still got the message across:


Steve K - Steve K's Vaping WorldMy kids are too young to vape themselves, but I have had frank conversations with them about why I vape and how in general I don’t think it’s a good idea to put stuff in your body without a good reason. So if one doesn’t smoke, vaping doesn’t make a lot of sense in my book.


Like all things parenting, good communication is the key.  They may not always do what we want, but we have to make sure there is a discussion.

– Steve K. (Steve K.’s Vaping World)


And Morten takes the same approach:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeMy kids were 13 when I started vaping and I just explained that it’s a new way to quit smoking. Other than that I’ve just answered their questions honestly since they’re pretty grown up by now (17) and understand these things pretty well. I think honesty is key when talking to teens about this.



– Morten Moe (The Vaping Giraffe)


I asked him if they’ve ever tried vaping and if he’d be concerned if they did:


Morten Moe - The Vaping GiraffeNot to my knowledge. It’s not an easy question to answer to be honest. I mean I would not like that they started vaping, but on the other hand I’m sure that if one of my kids did, chances are huge that she would have tried smoking if vaping was not available. To be totally honest I’m really happy that neither smoking nor vaping is popular among my kids’ friends, as I’m sure it would have sparked some pretty crazy arguments with their mother 🙂 


– Morten Moe (The Vaping Giraffe)


The take-away message is simple: talking to your kids about vaping is important, especially if you vape, but just be honest and objective about it. You don’t have to go to the extremes public health campaigns about the “risks of vaping” do, but you should make it clear that while vaping may be much safer than smoking, it isn’t completely safe and isn’t a good idea if you don’t smoke. Keep it age-appropriate, but always be as simple and straightforward as you can.


Yes, We Should “Think of the Children,” But We Need to Be Objective


This post is a big one, but the one thing I hope people take away from this and the previous part is that the youth vaping fears and gateway claims aren’t something that can be dismissed so simply, and they aren’t easy to solve. If never-smoking teens started vaping in substantial numbers and if vaping was a gateway to smoking, we would have a serious problem on our hands. And unfortunately, even though the evidence we have so far suggests it’s not that common an issue (if one at all), we can’t entirely rule out a gateway with the data we have.


But ill-thought-out proposals to tackle the supposed problem can have very real consequences too. From all the vapers who credit sweet and fruity flavors with helping them quit smoking to the smokers who may not switch if the price is raised too much, we can’t just sweep in with restrictive policies and expect there to be no downsides.


What we need is something measured and sensible, a set of proposals that balance the need to keep vaping as appealing as possible for smokers while still discouraging non-smokers from picking up the habit. The Surgeon General had the chance to bring exactly this to the debate in the US. He could have been up-front and honest about the evidence. He could have analyzed the potential downsides of his suggested policy changes, and he could have stressed the benefits of vaping to adult smokers.


But he didn’t. Instead, he fed anti-vaping talking points and threw America’s smokers and vapers under the bus. Even if he’d stuck firm to the evidence, the rhetoric around teen vaping wouldn’t have disappeared overnight, but the fact that he chose to fan the flames means that vapers will be putting them out for a while.


We just need to take care to do it with hard facts. We should temper our criticism of gateway claims with an understanding of why people are concerned about youth vaping, and we should always, always remind people trying to restrict vaping about the amazing things vaping can do for adult smokers.



We’d like to thank Carl, Michael, Nick, Steve and Morten for all of their comments and insights – this post wouldn’t have been possible without you!


Lee Johnson is a writer and vaper from the UK. He started vaping in 2012, and since then has contributed to E-Cigarette Reviewed, E-Cigarette Direct’s Ashtray Blog and Vaping360. He strongly believes smokers need accurate information about vaping and other reduced-harm alternatives to smoking. He has a degree in physics from the Open University and a passion for all forms of science.

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