Don’t Bully Teens, Joel Burns — Leave Vapers Alone

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The Fort Worth City Council, led by Councilman Joel Burns, is considering an ordinance to ban minors from purchasing e-cigarettes, portable battery-powered devices used for vaping nicotine liquids. The approach is short-sighted and likely to increase the propensity of teens to use conventional tobacco cigarettes.

The city government cited a study by the Center for Tobacco Research and Education that found e-cig users are more likely to use tobacco products. While that may be, the problem is that were it not for access to e-cigs, young adults would have more likely begun illegally acquiring cigarettes or readily available illicit substances like marijuana or MDMA at earlier ages. Removing access to a safer, reliable, and less expensive product puts children at unnecessary risk, forcing them to deal with perhaps less reputable personalities who may not have the same concern for a client’s well-being. The prohibition has ramifications on smokers of all ages led to believe the ban is an indication that e-cigs are no safer than the traditional cigarettes minors are already prohibited from purchasing. Teens and people first experimenting with smoking might then turn to the more traditional cigarettes instead.

The council didn’t address how many minors could be expected to turn to theft to afford the increased costs that would follow prohibition. I doubt the council’s even considered it. Getting arrested not only has long-term ramifications for teens getting hobbled with a criminal record, but it gives the wrong life lessons and omits teens from have the responsibility and experience of making positive life choices. It’s through the practice of making the right decision that we can get the confidence and experience for building character. So we’ll need young people to strengthen their decision-making skills, just as they would for any academic assessment. It would be as if students were provided answers to a test that didn’t influence their semester grade. They wouldn’t much care for the outcome of the test nor how the answers provided were arrived at.

Just the same, if we’re pushed into making a choice, even a better choice, we aren’t exercise our good judgement — just mindless obedience — and we don’t get the feedback necessary to know what we’re doing right and where we have opportunities to grow. No one reasonably believes the government should make every decision for us. That means young people need to be free to use their own judgement as they take initiative. The unavoidable fact that people make mistakes isn’t a reason to hold them back. Politicians like Joel Burns may sincerely think they’re shielding us from our lesser selves, but what they’re doing is sacrificing the ability to make the most of our lives in constructing a better world for everyone, even those who stumbled on their way.

Image credit: Keirsten Marie, with a Creative Commons license