I’m not a smoker or a “vaper,” so I feel a little bit outside of this trend, but it seems to me like vaping has never been more popular. I never knew any adults who vaped growing up, but as my generation gets older, it seems like we’re making vaping into something that’s very normal.
I’m curious about two things. First, is my observation correct–is vaping really more popular now than it was a couple of years ago? And second, what does this mean for policy and laws? Is vaping hurting my generation, or is it healthy?
First things first: you’re right on about vaping’s popularity. The modern e-cigarette was invented in 2003, less than two decades ago. But vaping’s popularity has grown exponentially since, especially among young people. In fact, vaping is now more popular than cigarette smoking among teens.
How did this happen? Well, part of vaping’s appeal is its versatility, which exists because of the many eliquids available for vaping devices. Eliquids are the substances that vaping devices heat up to create the vapor (actually an “aerosol,” which means a gas with particles suspended within it) that users breath in. Eliquid is available in a wide variety of flavors and types. Many, but not all, contain nicotine–the same addictive substance found in cigarettes.
So what does all of this mean for public health and public policy? If young people are vaping and vaping can be addictive (in the case of eliquids with nicotine), then what laws ought we put in place to protect teens?
It’s a difficult question, in part because the jury is still out on many of vaping’s impacts. It seems quite clear that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes. But cigarettes kill nearly half a million Americans a year, so that’s not a high bar. While it’s good that vaping offers an alternative to cigarette smokers who find themselves unable to quit nicotine entirely, it’s less clear that the practice is a healthy one for those who are not already hooked. The science of vaping’s health is not settled. And then there’s the fact that some young people may be using vaping devices to vaporize the TCH in marijuana–which opens up a whole separate debate that we don’t have space to go into here.
For now, the law dictates that vaping products be treated in the same way as tobacco products in most instances. That may or may not be fair, but that’s where the law stands now, and more and more regulations are being established to fill the gaps where tobacco law doesn’t already apply to vaping.
This doesn’t mean that this is how things will be forever, but this is the case right now. What the future holds for vaping, only time will tell.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” — Lao Tzu