Misguided Move To Curb Youth Usage Criminalizes Children
Public health priorities for many nations have been dramatically altered in the face of an unfolding global pandemic that has brought life to a sudden halt. Despite the clear threat this crisis poses, some officials continue onward with their constant sustained war against vaping.
In Taiwan, Taichung City recently passed a vaping ban set to help curb teenage usage by targeting the teens themselves. The new measure would create fines for minors and pregnant women caught with vaping devices or paraphernalia, as well as the usage of these devices in public spaces and designated areas.
The Taichung Department of Health has defended the measure, stating it is necessary to benefit public health at large. They claim the measure would not only help to reduce vaping among young adults, but also would help protect defined areas and public spaces from vapor.
Critics of the measure point out the very basic logical pitfall of targeting users. In fact, this has been a downfall of many failed policies over the years. Rather than helping this group that they perceive to be vulnerable, they effectively criminalize them. This not only adds an unnecessary burden to law enforcement officers and the criminal justice system but also may potentially compromise the future of curious teens throughout the city.
In Western Taiwan, the Taichung City Council recently passed the Taichung Autonomous Act for E-Cigarette Hazards Prevention. It has become the first of the nation’s six special municipalities to directly ban minors from possessing or using vapor products.
The new measure would create fines for the use or possession of vapor products by minors or pregnant women, ranging from NT$10,000 (~USD$330) and N$50,000 (~USD$1650). In addition, the fine would also ban e-cigarette usage at schools, museums, movie theatres, as well as on public transportation, with violators facing fines between NT$2,000 (~USD$70) to NT$10,000 (~USD$330).
The Taichung Department of Health stated the measure was implemented following a census conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare that found youth vapor usage had steadily risen annually. Department director Tseng Tzu-chan stated that the new ordinance would help curb youth use, as well as protect defined and public spaces from exposure to these products.
Critics of the measure note the long-established pitfalls of a prohibitive policy when users are explicitly targeted, as opposed to manufacturers or retailers. Not even acknowledging the massive difference between vaping and smoking and the reduced harm vaping poses, this bill effectively criminalizes children, dramatically shifting the future’s of curious teens and needlessly burdening the criminal justice system.
Despite claims of rampant teenage usage by the Taichung Department of Health and select public health officials, current research finds that most teens aren’t actually vapers. The study, led by researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health and published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, found that over 85% of teens do not vape at all, and even the few who do vape are not habitual users.
Public health scholars and harm reduction experts alike have repeatedly warned against the shortcomings and downfalls of restrictive policies against vaping. In an article published in the journal Science, a group of respected experts joined together to speak out against bans targeting vaping. The group notes a lack of evidence vaping is harmful, and that claims regarding concerns over vaping tend to be overblown and not based on science.
The scientific consensus continues to remain thoroughly in favor of vaping and the benefits it may provide, regardless of propaganda coming from anti-vaping activists. For example, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that vaping was more effective than traditional nicotine-replacement therapies in not only helping adults quit smoking, but remain tobacco-free.
In addition to this, vaping has been repeatedly proven as an effective smoking cessation aid, with a number of studies showcasing the reduced harm vaping poses compared to smoking. Landmark research from both Public Health England and the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center each found that vaping is 95% and 93% safer than smoking, respectively.
Prohibitive policies that criminalize users not only represent a failure of legislators but a larger failing of public health and criminal justice as a whole. Lawmakers claim to be protecting people, by directly criminalizing the group they claim to be the most vulnerable.
A simple, common-sense solution adopted by much of the world is to place regulations on retailers to verify the ages of customers and prohibit sales to minors. This basic solution is the standard across many nations, and could not be a more straightforward and obvious example of how to effectively limit youth access without literally criminalizing kids.
Taichung City’s new provision appears to not only defy common sense but decades of advice from public health scholars and criminal justice experts alike. Vapers throughout the special municipality must speak out and stand up against such outrageous measures that target vulnerable populations in their community.
What are your thoughts regarding Taichung City’s ban against the usage and possession of vapor products? Do you believe it is an effective public health policy to criminalize children and pregnant women? We would love to hear from you in the comments below, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to receive all the latest vaping news!
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