The new push to ban 18 year olds vaping ignores the number one rule when it comes to teenagers: you can never stop young people trying to behave like adults.
As a vaper myself, I can confidently say that banning the sale of vapes to 18-21 year olds is not going to achieve anything in preventing cancer. If Javid is serious, he must encourage the education of the toxic aspects of nicotine itself.
British teenagers are wondrous. We love to rebel, ignore advice on what is good for our future and live our lives in a glamorous haze of story-making events. Smoking and vaping, for most of us, are the key ‘coming of age’ activities which we try for fun. We either like it or we don’t. We know it’s bad for us, we all intend to stop. Some of us will, some of us won’t.
I had limited ways of smoking at school (boarding schools really know how to make life fun) without being detected, but one of the most debaucherous was during A-levels, my girlfriends and I smoking in the showers (no fire alarms there), drinking illegal bottles of Prosecco dancing to ABBA. I have to admit it was great, despite the knowledge that our matron could discover us at any moment. Even though we risked huge consequences, we still did it, and I’m proud. We felt cool, free and ridiculous. Some might call it pathetic.
I took up vaping properly at University as I was worried my lungs were suffering. I still smoke here and there when I drink, but I did notice a difference in my ability to do normal exercise. This shouldn’t be surprising. It has long been proven that vaping has far fewer toxic chemicals than combustible cigarettes. Vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, according to Public Health England. If Sajid Javid is trying to prevent a future generation from developing lung cancer, banning vapes is not the way to do it.
The first problem with vaping is not the risk of cancer, as with my experience, but the fact that you ingest far more nicotine on a daily basis from when you smoked a pack of fags a day. Vapes are transportable, easily used and don’t smell. You don’t have to get up and go outside and faff around with a dodgy lighter to get your nicotine fix. Perfect for an anxious teen in lockdown for 18 months who is struggling for an outlet. To put into context, one Juul pod contains the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. I would count myself as a heavy vaper. I got so used to it I was going through maybe four pods a day. That’s quadruple the amount of nicotine from what I would smoke as a maximum on a daily or nightly basis. I was not concerned, however, as I was taught it’s just way better than smoking and no real harm can come from it.
I know now that is not true. Nicotine has harmful effects on mental health (despite the fact that many young people do it to combat anxiety) as shown by the NHS. It also wrecks immune cell function. It infiltrates every task you do, whether it’s writing an essay or going to the loo. When I was at school 3 years ago, we were not taught this. We were only taught that smoking causes cancer, which was bad. Nicotine was only an addictive drug, while the chemicals in cigarettes were the real killers. Whilst this is true, there is much more to it.
If there is to be a crackdown on young people’s nicotine intake, it should be done by changing the way they are educated. Smoking is not necessarily the ‘cool’ thing to do anymore, vaping is the new kid on the block. Teach kids how harmful nicotine is, it might make them think twice. But Javid should be under no illusions that it will stop them. Young people still do drugs, drink illegally and smoke. That’s a fact of life.
The banning of vaping will also only encourage young people to buy their vapes elsewhere from more dangerous outlets. Knowledge about the dark web is readily available to any teen. If people flock to the dark web, which they will, they will be buying dangerous, unregulated vape products which, as we saw in the US last year, can be lethal.
Education on the matter of nicotine, while not effective in prevention, is a far better and safer way than banning them all together. It took me two years of vaping to realise that nicotine, perhaps, is more dangerous than people think. I want to quit. I know most of my fellow vapers want to quit. But that will not happen with government bullying. Maybe if politicians took up vaping it might discourage young people as it wouldn’t be cool, who knows, but Javid’s threat warns of a dangerous and interfering policy which does little to help the young whose daily lives are at the hands of nicotine.