Everyone can agree that it’s important to take steps to prevent teen vaping, but not everyone can agree on exactly how to do it. There is no shortage of ideas, but there is also no clear course of action or obvious strategy for how to proceed.
Many adult vapers worry that anti-vaping activists and lawmakers are willing to go to extraordinary lengths in order to restrict vaping, using teen e-cigarette use an excuse. And those fears are not unwarranted; many vaping laws and regulations end up stripping adults of their right to vape and crippling the ability of e-cigarettes to work as a viable smokeless alternative (see the e-liquid flavor ban passed in San Francisco and the extraordinary taxes on vapor products in Pennsylvania).
Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support these restrictive policies that lawmakers and activists propose. There is also a fine line between preventing teens from vaping and preventing everyone from vaping, including adult smokers who use e-cigarettes as a smokeless alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Preventing underage e-cigarette use is a very important issue, but it is not an end to justify any means. Using teen vaping as a reason to take away the rights of adults, or make it very difficult for adult smokers to switch to vaping, is a step or two too far.
Unfortunately, people who genuinely want to protect our youth too often end up barking up the wrong tree. In the rush to do something, they are willing to do anything, including experimenting with policies that are simply ineffective or end up doing more harm than good.
Vaping doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is a substitute for smoking. That means that restricting access to e-cigarettes risks increasing the likelihood that adults and teens will choose to smoke instead. Because of this, laws that restrict adults’ ability to vape are likely to backfire, even if they are enacted with good intentions.
Fortunately, restrictive measures are not the only option. Research shows that there are many other methods for reducing underage e-cigarette use that don’t interfere with adults’ ability to vape.
The biggest challenge is getting parents, schools, and lawmakers to embrace these possibilities and reconsider the more restrictive policies. That’s why, in this post, we’re going to take a closer look at what the research says about how to prevent teen vaping.
What the Research Says
Unfortunately, most of the research on vaping is still in its infancy. E-cigarettes are still a relatively new phenomenon, and there are a lot of challenges that come along with researching e-cigarettes and the social effects of vaping.
As a result, there is just not a lot of scientific data to go on when it comes to underage vaping. Instead, we have to look at studies on similar topics, like underage smoking and drinking, to see what the research says.
Like drinking and smoking, vaping is an activity that is legal for adults but illegal for underage kids to do. By looking at what methods have been successful at preventing underage substance use in the past, we can get a better idea of what methods might work best to prevent underage e-cigarette use as well.
Using this research as a guide, let’s take a closer look at some of the most promising methods we can use to prevent teen vaping. These methods are all supported by research and have the benefit of not placing unnecessary restrictions on e-cigarettes that infringe on the right of adults to vape.
Launch Effective Public Education Campaigns
Public Education Campaigns are some of the most consistently successful tools for combating risky trends and behaviors among teens. This includes efforts like the FDA’s recent “The Real Cost” campaign, which prevented an estimated 350,000 young people from starting smoking.
One study that reviewed all the research that’s been done on anti-smoking public health campaigns found that they can be “extremely effective” at preventing smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. It also found that mass media campaigns, including television and social media campaigns, are particularly effective at reaching young people and may even improve the success of anti-smoking interventions in schools.
Because of this, there is every reason to believe that public health campaigns aimed to curb teen vaping could be just as effective as anti-smoking campaigns. In fact, several health organizations and local governments have already launched large-scale media campaigns to educate teens about vaping.
However, all education campaigns are not equal, and some are more effective than others. According to the CDC’s guidelines, public health campaigns aimed at teens should use facts, hard-hitting messages, and real-life stories in order to be successful.
These kinds of campaigns are much more effective than ones built purely on guilt or emotional appeals, as some anti-vaping campaigns have been. Teens respond better to messages that appeal to their reason and desires compared to messages that blame them and tell them what to do.
Unfortunately, too many anti-vaping campaigns send the kind of messages that fail to resonate with teens. They use authoritative, dishonest, and shaming rhetoric that alienates teens and makes them less likely to listen to the message.
Research indicates that youth education campaigns are most effective when they aim to change social norms and teach teens how to refuse risky behaviors (like drinking, smoking, and vaping). Additionally, messages that stimulate discussion among teens tend to have the most significant and long-lasting impact.
Studies show that well-designed education campaigns can actually touch the hearts and minds of our youth, influencing their behavior in a real, long-lasting manner. In this way, they can address the core of the issue of teen vaping by changing young people’s beliefs, perceptions, and social norms.
If community leaders and policy makers want to convince teens not to vape, they need to continue sending messages that educate and empower teens, rather than simply shame them. However, in order to have a real effect, these messages need to be carefully designed, widely circulated, and based on facts and research.
Open a Dialogue with Teens
“Talk to your kids about…” Alcohol. Sex. Vaping. Whatever the topic, “Talk to your kids” is one of those things you hear so often from schools, parenting books, and public service announcements that it starts to sound cliché.
But just because we hear it often doesn’t mean that it has lost its meaning. Talking to your kids about sensitive issues is just as important now as it always has been, and it’s one of the best tools that parents and educators have to prevent teen vaping.
Research on anti-drug programs in school consistently supports the idea that interactive, discussion-based anti-drug programs are effective at preventing substance use, and that they are more effective than lecture-style approaches. These interactive programs work by engaging young people in the discussion and helping them develop interpersonal skills that they can use to resist peer pressure and the temptations of underage substance use.
There are many ways to open up this kind of dialogue with teens both in schools and in the home. In fact, the Minnesota department of health recently released a report with guidelines to help educators and administrators start this discussion in their schools.
The guidelines urge schools to update their curriculum to educate students about vaping and tobacco use. They also encourage schools to provide quit-smoking resources and special educational materials about teen vaping both to teens and their parents.
All of these things can help facilitate a dialogue within families and between students and educators that will help teens understand the risks of vaping. Many schools are already taking these and other active measures to combat teen e-cigarette use.
If you are a parent looking to open this discussion with your kids, there are many different guides and online resources that can help. What’s most important is creating a back-and-forth dialogue where your child feels listened to and understood.
Open-ended discussion creates more trust and connection than simply lecturing or laying down rules. If you take the time to listen to what your child has to say, you can better understand the real-world pressures and challenges they face in relation to e-cigarettes and vaping.
Then, you can leverage the trust and understanding you’ve built to guide your child away from risky behaviors like vaping and toward more healthy activities. It also gives you an opportunity to take a more active role in your child’s life.
Here are some helpful resources to help you prepare to discuss e-cigarettes with your child:
- The US Surgeon General’s Tip Sheet for Parents
- How to Talk to Your Teens About Vaping from the Addiction Education Society
- How to Prevent Teen Smoking by Talking to Your Teen About Cigarettes (this is very applicable to e-cigarettes, too)
Enforce Minimum Age Laws
Research shows laws that ban tobacco sales to minors are an effective way to reduce smoking among young people. Studies suggest that implementing the same restrictions on youth e-cigarette purchases could have similar effects.
To this end, the FDA has already implemented country-wide regulations banning the sale of e-cigarettes and other vaping products to anyone under the age of 18. Unlike flavor bans, these regulations are perfect examples of how we can use laws to limit teens’ access to e-cigarettes while still preserving the rights of adults to vape.
What’s more, the FDA has made it a point to enforce these laws and catch anyone who sells vaping products to underage teens. Just this year, the FDA conducted hundreds of undercover stings, issuing warnings and fines to any retailers who failed inspection.
States and local communities have also taken action, with many raising the minimum age for smoking and vaping and conducting their own undercover inspections. As we continue to step up enforcement of minimum age laws and hold retailers accountable for selling to underage youth, we can do a better job of keeping e-cigarettes out of teens’ hands.
Take an Active Role in Your Teens’ Lives
The most important tool we have to prevent teen vaping is a responsibility that only parents can shoulder. That responsibility is to be an involved and active force in your kids’ lives.
Studies show that a strong parent presence and parental guidance can be extremely effective at preventing risky behaviors and substance use in teens. Young people are also less likely to use tobacco and other substances when their parents are actively involved in their school life and education.
However, this level of involvement is difficult for many parents to achieve in the midst of work and the bustle of everyday life. That’s why, in order to reduce teen vaping, parents need to go out of their way to give their kids the monitoring, support, and guidance they need.
There are many ways to do this, and every family is different. What’s important is building a positive, respectful relationship with your teen and keeping tabs on their activities and behavior.
Many experts have written advice to help parents who want to take a more active role in their teens’ lives. Here are some practical tips recommended by doctors, teachers, and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
- Make time regularly to talk to your kids about what is going on in their lives, whether it’s after school, at the dinner table, or on the way to soccer practice.
- Ask your kids about peer pressure and trends at their school; that way you can provide guidance and check in with them later on any issues they bring up.
- Set clear rules for your kids about smoking, vaping, and other substances in your home. Make it very clear that using e-cigarettes is not acceptable.
- Teach your children to recognize and resist peer pressure, especially when it comes to vaping and other substances.
- Steer your children toward healthy friends and activities; kids are more likely to experiment with vaping if they don’t have better things to do.
- Set a good example by avoiding smoking or vaping in front of your children.
- Tell your children why you think the way you do about vaping and help them understand why it’s not okay for them to do. If you explain your reasoning, they are much more likely to believe what you say instead of dismissing it as an arbitrary rule.
This is an effort in which both families and communities have to take part in order to be successful. It’s not something that can be regulated or written into law, yet it is still one of the most effective ways to prevent teen e-cigarette use.
If you have a child and you are concerned about teen vaping, then the first place to take action is in your own home. By taking an active role in your child’s life and making sure you know what’s going on in their world, you can significantly reduce the likelihood that your child will vape.
In their concern about teen vaping, anti-vaping lawmakers and activists continue to cling to policies that over-regulate and restrict the ability of adults to vape. Unfortunately, policies like e-liquid flavor bans risk destroying vaping’s potential as a smokeless alternative, hurting current smokers, and driving even more adults and teens to smoke cigarettes.
In general, research shows that policies like minimum age laws, education efforts in schools, and public health campaigns are effective at reducing underage e-cigarette use. Research also emphasizes the important role that parents and families play in preventing teen vaping and the importance of opening up an honest dialogue with teens.
Unfortunately, reducing teen vaping is not as simple as passing a flavor ban or massive tax hike. It takes wide-scale, community-driven efforts to create meaningful change.
Unfortunately, the most restrictive vaping policies tend to be the most appealing because they are simple and relatively easy to enact. However, simple does not mean effective, which is why it’s important to look at other, more complex, solutions.
Preventing teen vaping is an extremely complicated issue that requires the coordination of families, schools, and whole communities to achieve. To truly change the hearts and minds of our youth, we should focus our efforts on mobilizing our local and national communities to open up new educational opportunities, support systems, and a caring, honest dialogue with our teens.
There will never be a perfect solution to teen vaping, but there are many things that we as a society can do to protect our children and educate them about the dangers of underage substance use. However, it should be our goal to do it in a way that ensures that adults retain the right to vape and access the full spectrum of smokeless alternatives.