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Cornell Study Finds Raising The Vaping Age Actually Increases Teen Smoking

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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Raising the vaping age actually leads to an increase in teen smoking, according to a new study from Cornell University.

Published in Preventative Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine investigators found an 11.7 percent increase in teen cigarette use after states introduced new age restrictions for e-cigarettes between 2007 and 2013.

Legislators across the country are bringing bills to statehouses to raise the vaping age in line with the smoking age to a new high of 21 in some states. Politicians and public health activists argue e-cigarettes could hook kids on nicotine and lead to them to transition to tobacco and, therefore, need to be more tightly regulated.

There is no credible evidence to date to support the assertion that vaping is a gateway to smoking. In fact, the reverse seems to be true, that vaping has led smokers to quit. (RELATED: One Of The Biggest E-Cigarette Scare Tactics Has Just Been Debunked)

Going against the tide of anti-vaping activism, health experts are now warning that treating e-cigarettes, which are 95 percent safer than regular cigarettes, like regular cigarette could have unintended consequences, damaging public health and exposing teens to greater risks from tobacco.

“We should regulate tobacco products proportionate to their risks, and e-cigarette evidence suggests they’re less risky products,” said the Cornell study’s lead author Dr. Michael F. Pesko. “While there’s some risk, it would be a mistake to regulate them the same way we regulate cigarettes.”

The study backs up research published in 2015  showing the drive to ban the under 18s from buying and using e-cigarettes had the exact opposite effect that policy makers intended.

Smoking rates among 12-17-year-olds actually rose in states that banned e-cigarette sales to minors, according to the study by Abigail Friedman of the Yale School of Public Health, published in the Journal of Health Economics.

“Such bans yield a statistically significant 0.9 percentage point increase in recent smoking in this age group, relative to states without such bans,” Friedman said. The study controlled for smoking rates within states and statewide cigarettes.

Pesko warns legislators to be cautious about raising the e-cigarette age in tandem with the smoking age. “One practical implication is that recently both New York City and Hawaii changed their legal purchasing age for both cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21,” said Pesko.

“Without commenting on the merits of raising the cigarette minimum purchasing age to 21, results from this study suggest it would have been better from a public health standpoint to increase the purchasing age to 21 only for cigarettes, and not e-cigarettes.”

Pesko believes the relationship between age restrictions and an uptick in smoking suggests e-cigarettes may be being used as a substitute for conventional tobacco.

If true, it would imply that teens who already smoke have a greater chance of quitting or cutting down their consumption if e-cigarettes are readily available. In total, 47 states have enacted age restrictions on e-cigarettes.

“This study provides some evidence for what I and other observers feared about restrictions on electronic cigarettes: when you make them harder to get or more expensive it doesn’t stop kids from smoking, it just pushes them in a different and potentially more harmful direction,” said Michelle Minton, Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“Regardless of intentions, If a policy prompts people to change their choices in a way that causes greater harm to public health, it is irresponsible to not reconsider the wisdom of that policy.”

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