#parents | #teensvaping | Youth who use nicotine have rights. Stop punishing them.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that minors are circumventing a set of new federal rules that prohibits the sale of certain pod and cartridge flavored vaping products across the country.

Students at a high school in Kentucky are still able to purchase single-use vaping products that contain sweet flavors. Despite the fact that single-use vapes have less nicotine than cartridges and pods, this is still an issue.

I mention this headine because it highlights, once again, the lack of respect for the rights of teens — especially if they use a drug like nicotine. Regardless of the drug delivery format a young person may prefer, youth will find ways to access products regradless of the rules or the punishments.

Now in 2020, it is imperative to keep the conversation about youth rights alive. Having been one of the only voices in this space advocating for the youth nicotine user, I ask all who read this column to be more accepting of this class of consumer.

Many of you also know my position on youth vaping: It’s bad, but this shit happens on a daily basis. So, like the successes seen in evidenced-based sex education, youth nicotine users are as entitlted to clear and concise information as adults are (How many youth know that nicotine is in chocolate? Or, how many know that nicotine occurs natually in nightshade plants or in other vegetables and fruit like tomatoes, potatoes, aubergine and green peppers?)

Another aspect of this ongoing argument includes the views of public health organizations who oppose vaping. Recently, the American Lung Association released its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report.

This report douments, evaluates, and rates states on their tobacco control efforts. States that rank poorly in one criteria are likely to receive failing grades. Conversely, states who have taken comprehensive action against tobacco and nicotine products are graded with passing grades.

Colorado, my home state, recieved a failing grade for a variety of reasons. The American Lung Association’s report for this year utilizes a criteria that includes a barometer on local and state legislation. This, too, includes a rating on the status of age restriction policies that include state-level Tobacco 21 laws.

Once you dig into the report, states who rate poorly are often lacking policies that cover age restrictions and taxation. Since Colorado has not implemented any Tobacco 21 laws or have formalized a speciic tax on tobacco or vapor products, the associaton assumes the state is an unhealthy environment of youth vaping on every street corner.

Colorado is one of the healthiest states in the union, barring the American Lung Association’s failing grade.

This all goes back to the youth rights argument because there is a consistent interest in the supposed pain of the youth tobacco epidemic.

At the heart of the debate, policies that are developed to reform youth access are often lacking the evidentiary justifications. A ban on flavored vaping products lacks the evidence of effectively curtailing the youth uptake of a tobacco or nicotine prduct, as further proven by the Times article and a variety of anecdotal instances from youth.

A study led by New York University public health researchers found that no vaping epidemic actually exists. While the data of the study clearly discloses a population of youth who use tobacco and nicotine, a lack of massive numbers solidifying the “epidemic” claim is lacking.

From this, we can see that a regulation spurred by youth uptake is a presumptious claim that defies data, anecdotal evidence, and the rights of youth. I know that some of you do not agree with my argument; however, the youth rights perdicament is exacerbated by the misinformation campaigns of a few select studies.

Considering a general model tied to the punishment of youth swept up in a drug war scenario, the evidence against product prohibition and fighting the increasing scrutiny of underaged drug users is overwhelming.

Moving forward, we need to remind our elected leaders that adverse policy agaisnt youth who use nicotine will cause more harm than good. This is also the case for general nicotine prohibitions, too.

If society is alarmed by youth drug use, we need to first accept the fact that this phenomenon is commonplace. Once this is agreed upon, there can at least be recourse for regulators and lawmakers to adopt policies that don’t harm youth just for being stupid.

A policy like this would inclue rehabilitative approaches to nicotine use addicition, while removing the stigma driving multi-billion-dollar scare campaigns. The most important aspect to this piece is this: Youth who use nicotine have rights. Stop punishing them.


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