You are here

Report: Youth Vaping Rate Increased with Anti-Vaping Campaigns

News Releases

Today the Competitive Enterprise Institute released a report on the connection between underage e-cigarette use and anti-vaping advocacy.

“Anti-vaping public messaging campaigns by government, advocacy groups, and the media backfired. Teen vaping did not escalate despite the increased anti-vaping messaging but because of it,” said Michelle Minton, CEI senior fellow and author of the report. “Looking at the timeline, underage vaping rates went up along with anti-vaping campaigns that unintentionally portrayed vaping as cool and rebellious.”

The rate of high school students reporting past-month use of e-cigarettes plummeted from 2015 to 2016 but then surged again by 2018. Why?

The report details a number of multi-million-dollar ad campaigns that were likely culprits. For example, a 2016 ad by the FDA called “Don’t Get Hacked” that entertained with ominous music mimicking the soundtrack of a slasher film playing with images of teenagers vaping. In one instance, a young woman walks into a dark alley to use her e-cigarette. Risky, cinematic, cool!

All the counter-productive ad campaigns relied on wrong-headed tactics:

  • Making explicit demands on behavior;
  • Raising awareness about products or behaviors that did not exist before;
  • Making a product/behavior seem more attractive; or
  • Portraying the behavior as common or “normal.”

Minton urges other ways to curb underage use of e-cigarettes, such as aiming communications at adults and giving the public—including adolescents—accurate, non-sensationalized information about the relative risks of noncombustible versus combustible forms of tobacco and nicotine consumption. The report also emphasizes some inescapable facts: Cigarette smoking kills approximately half of smokers who sustain the habit over their lifetime, whereas e-cigarettes are an estimated 95 percent less harmful.

“Health advocates should encourage smokers who have trouble quitting to at least switch to a product that delivers nicotine without combustion,” Minton explained.

View the report, Perverse Psychology: How Anti-Vaping Campaigners Created the Youth Vaping “Epidemic,” By Michelle Minton