Many legislators found common ground with vapers when they first proposed restricting sale to under-18s by law. After all, most reputable vendors in the market were already doing this so as part of a responsible approach to doing business. Vapers worried that doing otherwise might be seen as trying to encourage children into using electronic cigarettes.
The problem for harm reduction has always been that the rate of teens taking up smoking has been a tough nut to crack. To advocate access to vaping products is tainted by the spectre of nicotine addiction. But even in Australia there are cases where teens will be given methadone to help them away from heroin: “treatment should not be precluded on the grounds of age alone”. The general position of online ecig advocates has softened recently from a hard-line stance on the issue, could the latest study relax it even further?
Thus far, forty-seven US states have passed age-restriction laws prohibiting sale to under-18s; it’s a stance supported by tobacco companies and is a key part of Europe’s Tobacco Products Directive. The FDA look set to push for a federal ban across the whole of America but when Yale academics looked at the impact of the 2013 ban on North Carolina’s youth the results were predictable. They found: “that states that have banned the use of e-cigs and vaporizers by people younger than 18 have experienced an increase in the number of youths smoking traditional cigarettes.”
This month’s Preventive Medicine journal carried a paper by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine titled: “The influence of electronic cigarette age purchasing restrictions on adolescent tobacco and marijuana use.” The research, led by Dr. Michael Pesko, discovered that, in the twenty-four states studied, there was a rise of 11.7% in the use of traditional tobacco products where vaping had been banned for under-18s.
Commenting on the findings, Pesko said: “We found causal evidence that age-purchasing restrictions increased adolescent regular cigarette use. Teenage cigarette smokers living in states where they can legally purchase e-cigarettes may be more likely to quit smoking, aided by these electronic devices, than teenage smokers living in states where they cannot legally purchase these devices.”
The pharma-funded anti-vaping lobby have been quick to invent ways to discredit the findings, such as pointing a finger at possible ethnicity effects, but the point remains that the study covered almost 50% of the USA which negates such criticism.