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Here’s What Teens Really Think About Vaping

The battle against teen vaping is raging, and our data shows their perceptions of it are shifting. But not necessarily in the ways you might expect…

In 2018, we learned that Gen Z has a vice: vaping. Though overall, the generation’s risky behaviors are at a record low, vaping has gotten increasingly popular with teens today. According to the Washington Post, the FDA has cracked down on e-cigarette use after preliminary government data showed that one million more teens vaped in 2018 than in 2017. Along with enforcing new rules on online age verification, they banned the sale of flavored products from gas stations and convenience stores. Juul, the leading vape company, has been accused of targeting teens with their marketing and flavors, helping incite this epidemic of use among young people. They’ve since shut down their social media, and committed to ending their appeal to teens. But according to NPR, experts say the “brand has become so ingrained in youth culture that young people advertise it organically.” And Instagram is only part of the problem: A recent study found that vape videos on YouTube, which have also been blamed for getting kids to start vaping, are largely being sponsored by vaping companies.

It’s no wonder that this year, even more major efforts to curb young consumers’ vape use are being made. The Truth Initiative has made vaping a part of their mission, launching anti-vaping ads that take a humorous approach to spreading awareness of the dangers. CVS has invested $10 million towards Be The First, an ongoing program to prevent e-cigarette use among teens. Legislation is also being passed and considered across the U.S. to combat the issue. San Francisco (the home of Juul) just became the first city to ban vape sales altogether, and Vermont has imposed a 92% tax on e-cigarettes, all in the name of curbing use among teens. CNET reports that the FDA even made a video game about the horrors of vaping to scare teens straight.

So, is it working? In YPulse’s health and fitness survey, we ask young consumers exactly what they think of vaping. We dug into the data from both 2018 and 2019 to hone in on whether teens’ views of vaping are changing. Our research shows that their perceptions of e-cigarettes are shifting in some ways—but not always in the direction that lawmakers and prevention efforts might expect. The good news is that overall, among 13-20-year-olds, vaping is being viewed as more dangerous than it once was:

Compared to 2018, teens are now less likely to say that vaping is better for them than cigarettes, and more likely to say that they’re just as addictive as cigarettes. They’re also slightly more likely to say that companies target young people to get them to vape. So in some ways, they’re seeing e-cigarettes as more dangerous and their view of vaping companies is souring.

But while these numbers might indicate that teens are more wary of vaping, they’re not the only measures we looked at. And some other perceptions are shifting in the other direction:

Teens are just as likely to say that vaping looks cool as they were last year (those trick vaping videos really must be working). They’re also even more likely to believe that vaping will replace cigarettes than they were in 2018. But perhaps the most concerning change is that nearly six in ten 13-20-year-olds say that their friends vape, a 10% increase from last year. This isn’t to say that over half of teens are actually vaping: when we ask if they themselves have experimented with e-cigarettes/vaping, 23% say that they have. But they’re more likely than ever to believe that their close peers vape, potentially normalizing the behavior.

So while the dangers of vaping might be increasingly clear to young consumers, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a decrease in use for them. We’ll continue to track the issue as more restrictions and campaigns are rolled out to turn these numbers around.

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.