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The legal age to purchase tobacco products in the United States is currently 18. This has been the case since 1999. Yet underage smoking and vaping rates continue to be a hot topic. How concerned should you really be?

The Federal tobacco purchase age was set by the Public Health Regulations of 1999 (sec 2(e)(i) to be exact), and allowed anyone born prior to April 14th, 2010 to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Since then, many efforts have been made at the state level to raise this age limit. Hawaii and California were among the first states in America to bar tobacco sales to any person under the age of 21. Oregon recently added themselves to the same list, which now includes a total of 5 states.

Many organizations (mostly anti-ecig) have voiced their opinion of the matter. Underage use in the U.S. is now commonly referred to as an ‘underage vaping epidemic’; even though little evidence exists in support of this theory. So what gives?

An epidemic is defined as “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population” (straight from the CDC). Currently, there have been zero reported cases of disease brought about through the use of e-cigs. And while there have been some cases of nicotine addiction among teenagers, it’s not likely that this has anything to do with the delivery method, but rather one’s addictive personality.

The majority of adolescent vapers are not daily users. In fact, out of those who vaped (at least) once in a 30 day period, only 27.7% did so more than 20 days total. This evidence would suggest that teenage vapers are mostly experimenting with e-cigs, instead of using them as a as a tool for quitting.

Yes there has been an increase in vaping among high school students (30 day prevalence) from 2017-2018 of about 8-9%; nowhere near the 900% increase popularized by anti-ecig news outlets. Marijuana use among the same demographic sits at about the same level as vaping, and alcohol consumption stats remain at the 30% mark – substance use among teenagers has been common for years, and everyone knows this to be the case.

Pointing the finger at vaping and labeling it an epidemic, without at least mentioning other products like alcohol, is like giving someone a chocolate cake recipe without proper measurements for each ingredient. If you dig a bit deeper, you will find that smoking rates (again using the 30 day prevalence) have actually been on the decline since vaping became a thing (Clive Bates – Article on The great American Youth Vaping Epidemic), and smoking rates among 12th graders who smoked daily prior to 2010 have never been lower (2015: 5% – 2017-18: < 5%).

Even with facts, mainstream news outlets have made a conscious decision to ignore most of them and have instead set their focus on pointing the finger. Shamard Charles (M.D.), a writer for NBC went as far as conjuring a unique grading system – where states opposed to a change in the federal tobacco purchase age (18) were given a failing score (41 states total), and those enforcing tobacco 21 were conveniently earned a passing grade (10 states). Thankfully, NBC’s tobacco purchase age grading system has little-zero impact on reality.  Their efforts to blame a non-existent underage vaping epidemic on the U.S. government no longer makes much sense if one takes the time to look at the evidence.

The fact remains, smoking rates are on the decline, and even those who do not believe e-cigs have played a key part in the downward trend cannot argue that. Unfortunately, it is likely that news organizations will continue their efforts to present half the story on tobacco use. That leaves those who choose to look at the whole picture, including the thousands of cigarette smokers turned vapers, on their own for now.

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