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Schools and Underage Vapers

A school system in Eden, NY, has come up with a more effective way of reducing underage use of electronic cigarettes. Instead of treating them like any other expensive electronic apparatus in their lost and found closet, and returning them to the students or their parents, they are considering treating them like tobacco cigarettes, or chewing gum, or hairpins, or condoms, or any other disposable commodities the janitors sweep out of the corners of the school cafeteria – they will toss them. School administrators figure the prospect of economic loss may well put a dent in the youngsters' interest in vaping.

This could be important, not only for the health of the school children, but for the health of the vaping community and industry as well. It is well known that nicotine is not a particlarly dangerous substance in its own right, as is readily admitted by all honest observers (a group which excludes, alas, certain key "health advocates" at disease-control centers and cardiology departments). "People smoke for the nicotine, but die from the tars," says FDA tobacco honcho Mitch Zeller. But teenagers are a signal exception to this rule (along with pregnant women). Nicotine itself is genuinely harmful to the adolescent brain before its development is complete. Activists demanding effective age controls on e-cig sales are absolutely justified.

Fortunately, the industry agrees. E-cig manufacturers have uniformly supported sale-to-minors bans, and vape shops have, to their credit, followed suit without regulatory coercion. Convenience stores seem to be a bit more remiss, a significant lapse, although some convenience store trade groups are advocating greater vigilance by responsible outlets. The whole brouhaha about advertisements that woo underage customers is based on the unproven assumption that testimonials by foxy 20-something celebs, and the offerings of gummy-bear-like flavors, are specifically targeting under 18s. The recent congressional scorching of e-cig execs Craig Weiss and Jason Healy was based on this guess, while Healy and Weiss insisted that a testimonial by a 20-something, absent specific teenager cues, may be deemed as targeting other 20-somethings.

The vaping community has an image problem, and the idea that vaping is "a trick by Big Tobacco to hook our kids on nicotine," (a much-quoted phrase from a California cardiology professor's blog) is a key element in the problem. A school's discovery of an effective way to deter teen use should be a cause for rejoicing in vaping lounges around the country. Advocacy of the policy by vaping groups would be a public relations coup.

Nicotine is addictive, to be sure, although nay-sayers have not come up with a convincing reason why addiction to a relatively benign substance (caffeine is the obvious example) is necessarily a bad thing. The data now makes it clear that the overwhelming majority of teen vapers are dual users – they smoke cigarettes too. It is also now clear that the statistic for new teen vapers who have never smoked is so miniscule as to be insignificant. New teen vapers are smokers, just like their adult counterparts. Furthermore, teen smoking continues to slide while teen vaping is on the rise. This concatenation of data points leads inexorably to the conclusion that teen vapers are trying to get off smokes, just like mom and dad. The probability is that it's working for them, and teen vapers should in all likelihood be included in the growing statistics for successful smoking cessation through vaping, statistics that are rapidly becoming incontrovertible proof to anyone who doesn't willfully close one's eyes.

Here's an idea: Some enterprising school system, enterprising and open-minded, that is, could give the e-cigs back to the students caught with them, under the condition that the kids accept the school's provision of nicotine-free e-liquid, at no cost, along with a signed pledge by the kids to vape only 0% nicotine in the future.

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