Teen Vaping Doubles Since 2017, But There's a Silver Lining

By Alex Berezow, PhD — Sep 19, 2019
Teenagers are rebellious and they do stupid things. Given the range of options available to them -- from drinking and driving to unprotected sex -- vaping is a rather mild vice. However, it is still harmful, so laws need to be in place to prevent teens from getting them.
Credit: Public Domain/Wikipedia

Teenagers are rebellious and they do stupid things. This is a fact of life that we have to accept, whether we like it or not.

Go to Google and search for "stupid things teenagers do." You'll be enlightened by the results, particularly if you were too drunk to remember the stupid things you did as a teenager. Oftentimes, the article includes a lamentation along the lines of, "I hope my kids won't do what I did."

The following is just a sample of the idiotic things that teens have done and will continue to do: Unprotected sex, binge drink, drink and drive, drive recklessly, experiment with hard drugs, smoke cigarettes, smoke marijuana, smoke hookah. Thanks to the internet, they invent new stupid things to do and then share them with others. That's how teens ended up eating Tide pods and snorting condoms.

Any realistic conversation about public health and teen safety must begin with that basic understanding.

Teen Vaping Doubles Since 2017

A new study shows that the rate of teen vaping has doubled since 2017. Specifically, 25% and 20% of seniors and sophomores in high school, respectively, have vaped within the past month. That is unequivocally bad news. Nicotine is addictive, and long-term use of e-cigarettes is likely to cause respiratory disease, such as "popcorn lung" (the symptoms of which resemble COPD).

While this is not good news, it still must be put into context. In Europe, the rate of initiation of cigarette smoking among children aged 11-15 has ticked upward. Smoking is extremely unhealthy, so between the two, vaping is preferable. The silver lining is that teen vapers are preferable to teen smokers. As I wrote previously, we shouldn't treat all vices as equally bad:

"No responsible parent wants his kid to use any type of drug ever, but that doesn't change the fact that marijuana is safer than heroin. If a rebellious teenager is hellbent on trying drugs, I would much rather him puff the magic dragon than try heroin. While the former might kill a few brain cells, the latter could land him in the morgue.

"The same reasoning applies to sex. No responsible parent wants his teenager doing the horizontal tango. But if he does, protected sex using a condom is better than unprotected sex. Likewise, no responsible parent wants his kid to smoke or vape, but between the two, vaping is the safer option. Pretending that both are equally unsafe ignores science and is counterproductive to public health."

Of course, efforts should be made to prevent teens from acquiring vaping devices. In particular, (1) manufacturers must be banned from marketing to teens; (2) merchants must be banned from selling e-cigarettes to minors; and (3) vaping products should be thought of (and perhaps regulated as) medical devices for the sole purpose of smoking cessation.


Alex Berezow, PhD

Former Vice President of Scientific Communications

Dr. Alex Berezow is a PhD microbiologist, science writer, and public speaker who specializes in the debunking of junk science for the American Council on Science and Health. He is also a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and a featured speaker for The Insight Bureau. Formerly, he was the founding editor of RealClearScience.

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