This last week has seen a media blitz against dripping. The New York Times, CNN, KTAR News, Time, USA Today, and countless other news outlets have released emotionally manipulative pieces following a Yale study about teens dripping. Let us get to the heart of this sensationalism, and make sense of this so-called “epidemic.”
The Study Itself
Why have so many news sites turned their attention to dripping all at once? The journal Pediatrics released a Yale University study on Connecticut high school students this month. The results: a sample size of 1080 students that have ever used electronic cigarettes, 26.1% reported having tried dripping. Though vaping is not allowed on school grounds, it is notable that millions of high school seniors are legal vaping age.
Let us unpack these numbers: Of 7045 high school students (a relatively small sample size for a study), 1080 students have tried vaping. Of that 15%, about a quarter have tried dripping. That means out of 7045 students, 282 students have tried dripping. Does 4% constitute an alarmist media blast, when some of those students are of legal vaping age? I think that’s a bit melodramatic. Especially when 60% of high school vapers use e-liquid without nicotine.
This study has an eyebrow-raising disclaimer in the footnootes:
Supported by NIH grants P50DA009241 and P50DA036151 (Yale TCORS) and the US Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the Food and Drug Administration. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Lobbying in NIH and the FDA is no secret. The FDA has been riddled with conflicts of interest and racketeering suits in the past several years. Big Pharma and Big Tobacco have incredible clout in these organizations, monetarily. Not to mention the lobbying contributions to this study from American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association, whose anti-vaping agendas have been mercilessly exposed by Dr. Michael Siegel, among countless others. Anything lobbied or funded by anti-vape organizations such be closely scrutinized, or dismissed as pseudo-science.
The News Coverage:
The New York Times – Their article makes a few troubling, inaccurate claims. Their definition of dripping: “The term refers to the practice of applying nicotine liquid directly to the heated coils of an e-cigarette or other vaporizer to produce thick clouds of nicotine vapor.” As mentioned before, 60% of high schoolers don’t vape nicotine at all. Describing dripping as “applying nicotine liquid” for “thick clouds of nicotine vapor” does not convey a journalistic depiction of dripping.
Directly after that, the article states, “about a fourth said they had hacked the devices to allow dripping.” Hacked? There is no hacking involved in dripping. RDAs (Rebuildable Dripping Atomizers) are products made specifically for dripping. “Dripping” is literally in the name. Describing dripping in this way makes vaping sound more anarchic, and more sinister. Consider the first sentence: “Teenagers have found a new way to worry their parents. Never mind plain old vaping–now, it’s all about dripping.” Does 4% of a small, skewed survey indicate a widespread health menace? This article is emotionally manipulative hyperbole.
CNN – Susan Scutti’s article starts with some generalizations about dripping, with decidedly more accuracy than the New York Times’s. Beyond the intro, CNN delves into familiar anti-vaping FUD, entitled “Toxic Emissions.” No hard data is cited, and the thesis comes back to the same old we just don’t know!
KTAR NEWS – KTAR News comes in aggressively with the headline, “Teen vaping trend can get your child sick quick.” The story then moves quickly to the sensational:
Dr. Frank Lovecchio, with Banner Health, said the resulting vapor is equivalent to inhaling the same amount of nicotine as an entire cigarette in one breath. It can result in your teenager getting very sick, very quickly.
Nicotine levels vary greatly in cigarettes and e-liquids, not to mention the amount of variables in vape hardware. A cigarette ranges from 8mg to 20mg of nicotine, with most somewhere around 12mg. The vast majority of drippers use 3mg/mL e-liquid, or lower. To achieve the equivalent of a full cigarette in one draw, a vaper would have to use a nicotine level above and beyond what is available on the market.
A Matter of Perspective:
Nicotine use among teens has been on a sharp decline since the 1990’s. Additionally, teen vaping has declined since last year. Matt Novak of Gizmodo reports,
Teens’ smoking traditional cigarettes hit its peak in the mid 1990s, when almost 37 percent of American high school seniors reported that they’d smoked within the past month. Today, that number is just 10 percent. But the number of teens who reported vaping has risen steadily during this decade. This new study from the University of Michigan shows the first decline in teen vaping since the practice has been tracked.
Just 12.5 percent of high school seniors reported using an e-cigarette in the past month, according to the new study. That’s down from 16.3 percent a year ago, when vaping surpassed smoking as the high schooler’s nicotine-delivery method of choice. For 8th graders the percentage of vapers was down to 6.2 percent compared with 8 percent last year.
This is good news, all around. Less youths are smoking, and less youths are vaping. The fact of the matter: Dripping is a very small slice the vaping population. RDAs and RBAs account for roughly 1.2% of all vape hardware sales, under tanks, cigalikes, and pen-style electronic cigarettes.
Of course, vaping products should not end up in the hands of minors. Despite anti-vaping media claims, vaping is not marketed to children. Vapor companies are now federally regulated, and selling to minors is strictly prohibited. Mt Baker Vapor has always had a no-sales-to-minors policy.
“Think of the Children” as a Logical Fallacy
In 2002, John Meany and Kate Shuster published a book entitled, Art, Argument, and Advocacy: Mastering Parliamentary Debate. This book claims using “think of the children” in a debate is a logical fallacy, and an appeal to emotion. David X. Cohen, who used “think of the children” satirically in episodes of The Simpsons, used the phrase to reveal how the phrase is used in debate: “irrelevant, it sidetracked discussion from the original issues.”
“Think of the children” is a sensational way to stir moral panic, and its widespread appeal is a reflection of the alarmist state of modern media. A great way to get media to go “viral” is to horrify parents. Marketers, journalists, and politicians use this tactic ad nauseum.
To discuss an issue as complex and nuanced as vaping, we must divorce the debate from moral panic. How does dripping compare to the thousands of teens that die each year from car crashes, homicide, suicide, heart disease, obesity, drowning, and prescription drug abuse? Of course, minors should be kept away from vaping products at all costs. However, the repeated media blasts against vaping give an extremely skewed perspective on public health. We should celebrate the massive decline of teen smoking, and work towards keeping vape products out of the hands of minors.
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