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Vaping Crackdowns May Be Driving Up Smoking Rates

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Policies cracking down on electronic cigarettes by treating the devices like tobacco products may actually be pushing users to smoke cigarettes.

Advocates of the national Tobacco 21 agenda claim raising the purchasing age for both cigarettes and vapor products will curb smoking rates and help protect public health, but harm reduction advocates say the policies are having the opposite effect. Only one year after a Massachusetts city imposed the Tobacco 21 age hike, cigarette smoking among 12th graders surged from 9 percent to 33 percent, reports St. Cloud Times.

Smoking among 11th graders in Cohasset, Mass., jumped from 6 percent to 19 percent. The rapid increase appears to be directly tied to the increased tobacco age and is starkly contrasted by plummeting youth smoking and vaping rates on the national level. Under such restrictions, a black market forms, making access to traditional cigarettes easier for youth who want nicotine, according to Jenny Hoban, an expert in the field of tobacco harm reduction.

For young adult smokers, these policies cut off their access to a more effective cessation method, forcing them instead to either keep smoking or use federally approved cessation products like patches and gum. Smokers who attempt quitting with a vape have a roughly 70 percent success rate.

“T21 campaign aims to funnel newly restricted smokers and vapers back to low (6-8 percent) success-rate pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapy products,” Hoban, vice president for THR4Life, an advocacy group helping smokers quit, said in an editorial for the St. Cloud Times. “While these products work for some, they fail the majority of smokers. For youth prevention to be truly effective, it must be carried out in tandem with efforts that aim to support adult smokers who are trying to quit. Resources ought to be focused on accurate, education-based approach rather than trying to social-engineer behavior through strategies that have a history of failure.”

A report comparing various cessation methods, published Nov. 17 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed that despite attempts by federal health regulators to cast doubts on the efficacy of vaping, smokers are choosing it over Food and Drug Administration endorsed nicotine patches and gum.

Advocates of vaping say efforts to raise the tobacco age to 21 are unnecessary, pointing to consistent drops in the youth smoking rate for years. The number of teens using any tobacco product declined from 4.7 million to 3.9 million and the number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016, according to data released June 15 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health experts say vaping largely eliminates the harms from conventional cigarettes because 95 percent of the carcinogens that cause tobacco-related illnesses are released through combustion. E-cigarettes simply heat liquid nicotine, creating an aerosol vapor.

Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes, namely that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of smokers quit across the country.

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