Are We Trying to End a Positive Trend?


The story of vaping in schools has appeared in a number of places in the past few days. Here’s Jessica Picard reporting in the Valley Breeze:

“Our concern is that we are seeing an increasing trend in vaping. We thought it was important that we share with parents what we are seeing,” said Supt. Robert Mitchell.

Increased use of e-cigarettes is not just in the high school, but in the middle schools as well, said school officials.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current use of electronic cigarettes increased among middle and high school students from 2011 to 2016. The CDC reported that in 2016, about four out of every 100 middle school students and 11 out of every 100 high school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

In isolation, this may indeed be a bad thing, but that’s not how we should look at it.  According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, “from 2011 to 2015, the percentage of 12th-grade students who had ever used an e-cigarette increased from 4.7 to 16 percent.”  But over that same period of time, the percentage of seniors who said the same about actual cigarettes decreased from 10.3% to 5.5%.  Smokeless tobacco (like snuff and chewing tobacco) is down from 8.3% to 6.1%.  (These groups aren’t exclusive, meaning that there’s some overlap between them.)

As of 2014, more students had used an e-cigarette than an actual cigarette.  The question that the advocates and (in turn) the journalists miss is this:  If the alternative to e-cigarettes is not nothing, but smoking or chewing tobacco, isn’t this outcome positive?

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Looking at the trend for teenage smoking, the line is down, down, down since the mid-90s.  That’s what one would expect as the rules and social pressure have changed.  When I was a high school smoker back then, we were still able to go out to the smoking area behind the library.  No doubt as that convenience decreased, fewer kids bothered.

It could be that some percentage of teenagers will simply do something “adult” and addictive like smoking.  It’s probably better to allow that to be something like smoking, rather than smoking itself.

  • Lou

    I’ve noticed a trend with you and Mike. In the interest of full disclosure, is any of your organization’s funding provided by the vaping industry?

    • Justin Katz

      You’ll have to ask Mike about funding; I don’t pay attention to it because I’m not going to adjust my beliefs in accordance with it. I do know that restrictions on new products, like vaping, are included in our broader push to reduce regulations that restrain the economy and job creation.

      Be that as it may, I’ve always enjoyed making points that cut against the common wisdom of the do-gooders (plastic bag bans are another example), especially when I’ve got perspective from personal experience.

    • Mario

      I don’t think a pecuniary incentive is necessary to see why restrictions on vaping are counterproductive. It is truly bizarre that there are people in government that want to pretend that discouraging smoking was ever about tobacco when it is obviously the smoke part that causes most of the problems. Particularly since that same government is simultaneously encouraging other forms of smoking. But, then again, there is tax money on both sides to look out for.

  • Guest

    Hawaii as a state has basically banned all smoking, e-cigarettes and non-smoking tobacco products. Illegal to smoke on state, city property, beaches or parks, in private vehicles with children under age of 18, restaurants, stores, banks, medical facilities, public transportation, cabs, private buses, schools, colleges, universities, public spaces at condominiums, parades and you must be 21 to purchase or possess tobacco products in Hawaii. You can smoke on and in your own property, boats where allowed or on federal property where allowed.

  • Mike678

    Most studies show that vaping is much safer than smoking. That said, most states tax tobacco products while just a few tax vapors. Once the states tax vapors, I think we’ll see less concern from the bureaucracies.