Public Health Officials Need to Stop Treating Vaping as Though It Were the Same as Smoking


The proportion of U.S. high school seniors who are vaping tobacco products nearly doubled in the past year, with more than 1 in 5 now saying they have vaped to get a hit of nicotine in the past 30 days, according to a new study. (Ded Mityay/Dreamstime/TNS)

Should we care that much if teen’s vape?

It’s a question I asked in a recent print column – my conclusion is that the vaping “epidemic” is yet another in a long line of moral panics and that the rise of vape technology is a net gain for public health – and it drew a response from Jason McCoy (a public health professional based in Minnesota) in the form of a letter to the editor.

“As a public health professional working with schools currently dealing with this crisis, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.,'” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, the author largely dismissed this rising health threat of youth nicotine addiction.”

I didn’t dismiss the health risks associated with vaping. Here’s a direct quote from my column: “Teens shouldn’t vape. It’s not healthy.”

My argument is that, while vaping itself isn’t healthy, it’s certainly healthier than smoking. And, thanks probably to vaping, fewer kids are smoking.

That’s good news, though public health professionals like McCoy, who are in need health crises to justify their jobs and pay, try to obscure this reality with misleading statistics.

Case in point, this from his letter to the editor: “Our latest data, the 2017 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey, revealed that youth tobacco use increased for the first time in a generation. One in five Minnesota high school students reported using e-cigarettes, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2014.”

That sure makes it sound like things are getting worse, not better, but that’s only because the public health industry refuses to draw distinctions between vaping and traditional tobacco. Note that when McCoy is talking about an increase in “tobacco use” he cites a rise in vaping.

Of course there’s been a rise in vaping. Nobody knew what it was just a few years ago. Now it’s become quite popular, and the use of traditional cigarettes has declined.

Again, that’s a net positive, unless you’re a public health professional terrified that healthier Americans might diminish the need for public health professionals.