Declines In Adolescent Smoking Accelerated As Vaping Rose, Suggesting The FDA’s Campaign Is Fatally Misguided

Reason cited CEI’s Senior Fellow Michelle Minton on FDA anti-vaping ads.

In the midst of a federal campaign against underage vaping, a new study finds that downward trends in smoking among teenagers and young adults accelerated as e-cigarette use rose. The findings, based on data from five national surveys, suggest that the official panic about the “epidemic” of e-cigarette use by minors, which has led to restrictions that affect adult access to vaping products and government-sponsored propaganda that exaggerates their hazards, is fatally misguided.


The intent of these ads, I’m sure, is to convince teenagers that vaping is not as harmless as they might think it is. The FDA notes with alarm that, according to the Monitoring the Future survey, “about 80 percent of youth do not see great risk of harm from regular use of e-cigarettes.” But regular use of e-cigarettes, as far as we can tell, doesn’t pose a “great risk of harm,” certainly not when compared to regular use of combustible cigarettes. If teenagers erroneously conclude from the FDA’s icky, scaremongering ads that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking and maybe even more dangerous, they may be more inclined to smoke rather than vape, even though smoking is in fact much more dangerous than vaping.

Furthermore, as Competitive Enterprise Institute policy analyst Michelle Minton notes, teenagers are not the only ones who see these ads. The share of American adults who incorrectly believe that vaping is just as hazardous as smoking is already on the rise, thanks in no small part to overwrought, misleading, and sometimes flat-out inaccurate warnings from activists and public health officials. In one survey, the share of adults who incorrectly said vaping is as harmful as or more harmful than smoking tripled between 2012 and 2015, from 13 percent to 40 percent. Propaganda like the FDA’s can only encourage that trend, making it less likely that smokers will switch to vaping and more likely that those who have switched will resume smoking.

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