It irks me when I see high school seniors vaping just off of school grounds during their lunch. I lament the health effects and worry about the impact this image has on underclassmen, many of whom I know smoke despite their assumed anonymity. Perhaps vaping is a crisis; 3.6 million students vape in the United States. As such, no part of me wants this trend to continue. The question is: what do we do about it?
Regulations, laws, prohibitions, and the like have understandably been put forward as a means to curb this crisis. If kids are smoking, either increasing the age at which it is legal or the consequences for the crime will shrink the number of student smokers—or so runs the arguments.
These actions may deter vaping. Despite the unanimous condemnation of it, the prohibition of alcohol during the 1920s lowered the rates of consumption. Similarly, in Colorado, the rate of those who smoke marijuana has risen for adults since its legalization. To an extent, regulation and prohibition are effective deterrents.
Regardless, the deterrent effect doesn’t act alone. Flapper girls, mobsters, and speakeasies flaunted the prohibition as a new black market pulled countless, formerly law-abiding Americans into criminality. Regarding laws against marijuana, Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and the Netflix documentary 13th tell about the millions of people of color in jail for little more than smoking a joint. And none of this touches on the financial burden that regulations create through additional policing and jails. While effective at curtailing activities, yes, regulations and prohibitions carry repercussions. If a new medicine cured the flu but caused cancer, we’d seek alternative methods to redress the wrong.
A Better Solution
A decline in vaping isn’t without precedent. In the 1960s, companies sold 11 cigarettes per adult per day while 42% of adults smoked. Today, those numbers are down to 3 and 14%. Without prohibition and regulation, rates of traditional cigarette smoking plummetted.
Private campaigns like Truth and public organizations like the CDC spread materials with stark images and lambasted tobacco companies. Health curricula detailed the health effects of tobacco use. As studies found evidence of a further correlation between smoking and things like lung cancer, the general cultural attitude towards cigarettes turned. Without the need to criminalize the use of tobacco, it has become an almost taboo practice.
Spreading accurate information about vaping through campaigns, health curricula, and general cultural messaging will have a deterrent effect without the added consequences that regulations bring. I want to see less of my students smoke. At the same time, I don’t want to see a minority of them turn into unwitting criminals because some do-good law made them so.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.