As the teen smoking rate continues to decline, there has been an undeniable uptick in minors picking up the vape. From the 13 year old kids on YouTube and Instagram (both accounts have been deleted, but more will undoubtedly emerge), to the 16 and 17 year old former smokers who began vaping for the same reason many of us adults did, to help curb or eliminate their smoking habit, there can be little doubt that minors are vaping now. The easiest thing to do is just say it’s all bad and that no one under the age of 18 should be vaping for any reason at all…but is that really true? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons minors are vaping and take it from there:
For many of us, the first cigarette we smoked is an event that we’re not likely to ever forget. The impact that it had is undeniable, and the path that it led us down is one many of us wish we had never trod. The reason most of us picked up that first cigarette is obvious…smoking looks cool. Our favorite actors, musicians, and various celebs did it, so we did too. It’s a point not really worth arguing. I saw a comment in the ECR forum a couple of weeks back from someone who still thinks smoking looks cool. I don’t see the appeal of it myself anymore, in fact after 5 years of vaping, even a slight whiff of smoke makes my stomach turn, but teens still do, and in the end, if they’re absolutely, positively going to pick up a nicotine habit no matter what, wouldn’t we all prefer to see them vaping rather than smoking? At least they have an opportunity to opt for zero nic juice, should they choose to.
Some minors are using it to quit smoking
Like many of you, I picked up smoking long before I turned 18. In fact, by my 18th Birthday, I was already heavily entrenched in the habit and had picked up a pretty decent smokers cough to boot. I had smoked my first analog 5 years before that birthday and was a PAD smoker for over 2 years at that point in my life. Before reaching the age of 21, I had already attempted to kick the habit a couple times, failing miserably. By then, I knew deep down, even if I refused to say it out loud, I was hopelessly hooked. My story is not unique, and it’s not antiquated. Despite the fierce anti-smoking campaigns, both in print and on TV, teens continue to pick up the habit, although in smaller numbers than ever before, thanks at least in part, to vaping. So, to those who insist that minors shouldn’t be vaping under any circumstances, I say this: Teenagers are always going to do the things they’re explicitly told not to, they’re teenagers after all. With all of the outside influences, peer pressure, and internal aspirations of being “cool”, coupled with the ease of access to most nicotine products, isn’t it better to have them vaping rather than smoking?
It’s a difficult subject to tackle, and quite obviously a discussion that most vapers would prefer to avoid entirely, but it’s a real issue, and it’s happening everywhere. Certainly no one condones 13 year olds blowing clouds on YouTube or Instagram, but isn’t a 16 or 17 year old who vapes respectfully in private, in order to overcome an already existing nicotine addiction, better than one who continues to smoke simply because they’re unable to stop?
For some, it can be a useful tool
This topic has come up more than a handful of times on Reddit, and those underage teenagers who admit to vaping are more often than not, downvoted to oblivion. Still, every so often, there is the case almost no one can argue against. I recall one underage vaper who was heavily involved with drugs and alcohol (like so many teenagers). Despite these extracurricular activities, he was maintaining a 4.0 average, right up until he saw the error of his ways and quit the illicit substances cold turkey. As a result, he would often find himself tired, stressed out, and unable to concentrate at school, and of course his grades began to falter. Despite never having been a chronic smoker, a friend offered up an old eGo, and things turned around for this young man. The stress became manageable and his grades went back up once he learned to use vaping to help manage the stress, in much the same way recovering addicts in (and out of) rehab smoke. Additionally, many of us have witnessed firsthand the cognitive benefits of low-dose nicotine, and while that may or may not have been a factor in this instance, it’s difficult to argue against this person’s use of vaping.
I’ve also read accounts of vapers previously diagnosed with ADD and ADHD, some of whom are under the age of 18, finding that vaping low to mid dose nicotine levels helps them to keep the disorder under control, likely due to the stimulant effect of nicotine. Vaping allows them to take less of their amphetamine-based medication, an obvious benefit that again, few would argue against.
So…Do I support minors vaping?
Absolutely not. Do I understand it? As someone who smoked their first cigarette at the tender age of 13, I understand completely. The best case scenario is that kids will listen to their parents and never take up a nicotine habit in the first place. But kids will be kids, and if they’re going to use nicotine, I’d prefer they get it from the cleanest source possible, without the 40+ known carcinogens, dubious additives, and tar found in each and every life-sucking cigarette.
For the record, as a parent (not a prerequisite for this stance), I also wholeheartedly endorse a ban on selling products to minors, but like alcohol, the more a parent, or any authority figure for that matter, says “XY&Z are bad for you, and I don’t want you near them”, the more likely a great many adolescents are to seek out those behaviors.
I’ll never embrace the idea of my child (or anyone else’s) picking up a vaping habit simply to look cool, impress their peers, or mimic their hollywood and/or music idols. However, if at the age of 16 or 17, my son were to come to me and tell me that he’s somehow managed to hide a years long smoking habit from me and now that he’s ready, he can’t seem to quit, my first instinct would be to do my best to help him quit without any NRTs. Failing that however, I don’t believe I’d hesitate to introduce him to vaping, taking care to teach him how to use it respectfully, responsibly, effectively, and of course, safely. When the real goal of total elimination of nicotine fails repeatedly, turning to harm reduction is not irresponsible, in fact it would seem the only rational path to take.