Post provided by a guest contributor based in the United Kingdom.
One of the stories surrounding the end of the popular TV series Game of Thrones centered around one of the series’ young stars. Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, was spotted “Juuling” on set in her full costume, leading newspapers around the world to dust off their stories about the teenage vaping epidemic.
Setting aside for a moment the fact that Ms. Turner is a married adult woman, and not in fact the teenager she plays on TV, we’re led to ask. Is there really a teenage vaping epidemic?
What the Papers Say
The newspapers would have you believe that we’re in the grip of a vaping epidemic. That even as tobacco and nicotine use plummets, kids all over the world are grabbing vapes – especially the Juul pod vape – and puffing away.
Some American media even claims kids as young as 10 are “getting high” from using ecigarettes. Which would be pretty difficult given that there aren’t any psychoactive substances in eliquids.
So is this just scaremongering? Let’s look at the numbers.
What the Numbers Say
There has been a rise in the number of under 18s who have vaped in the past year. In 2014, before the rise of simple to use pod vaping systems, only 1.6% of teens would class themselves as vapers.
Four years later, that number had risen to 3.4%.
Does 3.4% of the population count as an epidemic? Not according to Professor John Newton of Public Health England, who is quick to point out that “regular use remains low” and that it is “very low indeed amongst those who have never smoked.”
In Professor Newton’s eyes, those teens most likely to vape have already tried tobacco cigarettes, and the less harmful electronic cigarette is actually the lesser of two evils.
However he, and other experts, are quick to downplay the scare stories about any teenage vaping epidemic.
Especially when that 3.4% of teens is compared to other antisocial or dangerous behaviours:
Teenage Behaviour in the UK
- 3.4% of 13-18 year olds vape regularly
- 8.2% of 15 year olds smoke cigarettes
- 30% of 16 year olds are sexually active
- 44% of 11-15 year olds have drunk alcohol
When it comes to things teenagers shouldn’t be doing, but that they do anyway, vaping remains some way down the list.
What the Experts Say
For an expert opinion, we reached out to ask one of the leading UK eliquid brands for their opinion on vaping.
“The rules surrounding the sale of eliquids and vape kits are clear. We cannot sell our products to teenagers. If you’re under 18, you can’t buy from our online store, and our high street stockists all operate their own challenge policies to keep vapes out of the hands of teens.
If we look at the stats from our store, the average ecigarette user in the UK isn’t a teenager at all. He’s usually a man, in his mid to late thirties, who’s turned away from tobacco use for health reasons.”
As for independent experts, they’re in agreement.
According to Dr Graham Moore from the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement, there’s no rise in youth tobacco smoking because vaping and “Juuling” is a gateway to tobacco, and the percentage of teens who’ve tried a cigarette or electronic cigarette has fallen from 60% in 1998 to 19% in recent years.
So despite what the papers both here in the UK and over in Winterfell have to say, we think it’s clear that there’s not a teenage vaping epidemic.