Texas school changes dress code to fight “vaping epidemic”

In the latest example of the USA’s hysterical over-reaction to the so-called “teen vaping epidemic”, a school district in Texas has changed the dress code for its students over fears that some of them may be using sleeves to hide JUUL e-cigarettes.

It’s hard to think of a product that’s generated as many urban legends in so short a space of time as the JUUL. Whether it’s wild claims about nicotine content or the idea that people like them because they’re brightly coloured, it seems there’s nothing the credulous won’t believe about the popular e-cigarette. One of the more common legends, for some reason, is the idea that millions of American teenagers are using them in class by hiding them in their sleeves.

Now a Texan school district has come up with a plan to halt this dangerous trend. From now on, any Channing Independent School District students who wear long sleeves will need to keep them rolled up several inches above the wrist. If classes are indeed full of vaping teens this might be an effective way to stop them – but it’s baffling that any sane person could find it reasonable or proportionate.

PHE look for vaping epidemic, don’t find it…

In sharp contrast to the hysteria in the USA, Public Health England recently carried out research to identify trends in vapour product use. What they found was that nothing much has changed over the last couple of years – and that, in the UK at least, there’s absolutely no sign of the dreaded “teen vaping epidemic”.

The new report, commissioned as part of the Tobacco Control Plan for England, is based on data from the Smoking Toolkit Survey – the most complete statistics on smoking and vaping prevalence in any advanced country. It found that almost all regular users of e-cigarettes are adult smokers or former smokers. Around 17% of smokers and 11% of ex-smokers vape, according to the data, and “quitting smoking” is the most common – and most important – motivation. These numbers have been relatively stable for at least the last two years.

Meanwhile, teenage experimentation with vapour products has increased over the last few years. In 2014, 8.1% of 8-11 year olds said they’d tried vaping. That’s now 15.9%. Is this a sign of a vaping epidemic? No. The number of young people who vape regularly is stable at 1.7%, and almost all of these are current or former smokers; just 0.2% of young people who have never smoked are regular vapers.

It’s possible that there’s some cultural difference that explains why US teens would be having a “vaping epidemic” while their very similar British counterparts are not. If there is, fixing that cultural difference would seem to make more sense than focusing on vaping. On the other hand it seems much more likely that the USA is simply having a moral panic similar to the one that led to the disastrous experiment of Prohibition.

…and get attacked by anti-vapers

While the new PHE report has been welcomed by health experts, it immediately came under attack from anti-harm reduction campaigners. Stanton Glantz, Simon Capewell and Martin McKee, described as “top scientists” for some reason, spoke to The Daily Telegraph on Friday to claim that vaping is creating “a generation of nicotine addicts”. It seems they’re determined to ignore PHE’s finding that few teens vape and most of those who do are using e-cigs to quit smoking.

French tourist deported from Thailand for holding e-cig

The USA isn’t the only country with a deranged attitude to vaping, of course. A 31-year-old Frenchwoman has just been arrested, fined and deported from Thailand for possession of an e-cigarette. The victim says she was asked to pay a bribe and, when she refused, arrested and jailed; Thai police say none of this is true.

What isn’t disputed is that Cecilia Cornu was riding a moped with her fiancée in the beach resort of Karon on 30 January, when the police stopped her for holding an e-cigarette. Cornu says she was then asked to pay 40,000 baht – about $1,500 – and, when she refused, was arrested and taken to the local police station. She says her passport was confiscated and she was given a trial date of 11 February – the day before her flight home.

At trial Cornu was fined 827 baht – about $26 – then held in jail for three days before being deported.