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Contrasting Approaches to Teen Harm Reduction

The Truth Initiative warns about teens vaping while ASH fear disinformation places lives at risk.

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This week saw the media whipping up a fear-driven agenda, based on very little data, on claimed damage to lung cells. It, and positions taken by irresponsible organisations like The Truth Initiative all feed into a growth in ignorance. Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH) warns that this could places lives at risk in the future.

“What looks like a JUUL,” says The Truth Initiative, “operates like a JUUL, but isn’t a JUUL? One of the many copycat products that companies are selling to try to cash in on the profits of the top-selling e-cigarette JUUL, which has caused major concerns because of its popularity among youth and widespread use in schools.”

Not only is The Truth Initiative concerned about teen addiction, but it also seems to be moving into trading regulations (for reasons only known to itself), “These products are not only putting a generation of youth at risk of nicotine addiction, but they appear to be breaking the law.”

Robin Koval, president of The Truth Initiative, said: “The fact that JUUL is acting like, 'What, young people are using JUUL? We never intended that to happen,' is a little disingenuous.”

Then she demanded that the company complies with ridiculous regulation that has been shelved to 2022 because it is so flawed: “Frankly, if they really wanted to do something to impact youth sales, they could voluntarily comply with all of the rules that got postponed until 2022.”

Organisations and pressure groups that come out with this line are looking increasingly like a snake eating its own tail. They produce warped studies to confirm their bias, and then quote these pieces of junk science in future flawed reports. It’s a sham.

What is the reality of teen vaping? The answer can be found by looking towards truly independent pieces of work – such as findings from ASH, where they point out that when it comes to understanding the dangers of vaping, the kids aren’t united.

ASH’s Hazel Cheeseman is reported as saying: “Given that young people are likely to consume news in the sound-bite heavy world of social media, it is not at all surprising the more complex message about relative risks are lost on them,” she said. “We know the public in general also hold inaccurate beliefs about the harms from vaping which includes doctors, teachers and parents.”

ASH’s report, from research earlier this year, highlights that fears of teen vaping are exceptionally overblown.

So, not only are non-smoking teens vaping, they are being lied to. Why do some many people refuse to tell us the truth? What is the impact of this campaign of fear and misinformation?

Cheeseman continued: “I do think it’s important for young people to accurately understand that vaping is many magnitudes less risky than smoking. Although there is no current evidence vaping is leading to smoking, young people are experimenting with vaping and we do not want them to think that vaping is just a small step away from smoking. Much better that they understand that if they go on to try smoking they are exposing themselves to a much greater level of risk.”

But this isn’t happening according to ASH’s data: “A growing proportion of young people incorrectly believe that e-cigarettes are as harmful as tobacco cigarettes. In 2013, 11% of respondents said e-cigarettes had ‘about the same’ level of harm as tobacco cigarettes and this has increased to 28% in 2018.”

Given that the only teens vaping are those who are former and current smokers, deterring them from switching in the future leaves them open to decades of tobacco-related harm.

John Britton, a leading expert on harm reduction at the University of Nottingham, believes that vaping over many years is likely to lead to health problems, but still contends: “The harsh truth is that smoking kills, and smokers who switch completely to electronic cigarettes are likely substantially to reduce the likelihood of premature death and disability.”

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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