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Port: Should we care if teens vape?

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Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. -- "No one can look at the data and say there’s no problem.”

Those are the words of Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, talking about national survey data showing “12 percent of high school students and 3 percent of middle school students” had vaped within the last 30 days.

Here in North Dakota, the survey showed “21 percent of high school students currently identify as a vaping product user.”

Public health officials are now throwing around the word “epidemic.”

But is it?


I realize that as a parent, and as a citizen, I’m supposed to be alarmed. I’m supposed to demand that the government crackdown on this latest teen crisis.

I’m finding myself underwhelmed.

This seems less a public health crisis than the latest in long line of moral panics - from rock and roll to youth gangs to Satanism - which have taken grip in America.

I got a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas in 1986.

(A cruel irony is that my parents got my sister the television, meaning my Nintendo had to go in her room. Another irony, I bought a re-issued version of the original NES for my daughter for Christmas this year. Meaning she’ll be delighted by the same technology which delighted me more than 30 years ago. Nobody tell her, ok? Back to the column.)

In 1990, I got access to the internet, at a rip-roaring speed of 2,400bps, for the first time thanks to Prodigy’s now-defunct dial-up service.

I am squarely in the video game and internet generation, and the public health experts of my youth were insistent that violence and sexual content online and in the games we played was going to turn us in sociopaths.

In reality, violent crime, including sexual crime, is at or near historic lows .


What if the same happens with vaping?

If you read past the scaremongering rhetoric in these articles about the rise of teen vaping we see some positive news. “One in three seniors say prescription opioids were easy to get, down from 54 percent in 2010,” USA Today reports .

“Fewer than 2 percent of seniors misused Vicodin, down from 10.5 percent 15 years ago,” is another bit of good news.

“Use of cocaine, synthetic marijuana and ecstasy were near historic lows, the researchers found,” the article continued.

Outside of the increase in vaping, national surveys show teens mostly turning away from drugs and alcohol.

That’s a crisis?

Oddly enough, one of the explanations for this trend is social media, the use of which is supposedly another crisis.

"Now that kids use more and more social media and have less time in face-to-face encounters, the question is do they have less of an opportunity to be in an environment where they are exposed to drugs?" asks Nora Volkow of National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Maybe Snapchat isn’t that bad after all.

Teens shouldn’t vape. It’s not healthy. But then, we all do a lot of unhealthy things we probably shouldn’t do.

That’s life, not an epidemic.

Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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