What have LGBTQ youngsters in particular got against vaping?

How harmful is vaping to the user’s health? While the global scientific jury is still very much out on that one – and, face it, e-cigarettes haven’t been around long enough for anyone to know for certain what their long-term affects may be – your own view on the matter is likely to be shaped by who you are as much as by what you know, or think you know.

An interesting study – albeit one that started from the position that e-cigs are harmful – by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago set out to investigate the perception of vaping among teenagers. The headline finding – “Teen perceptions about e-cigarette health risks vary by socioeconomics and personal demographics” – may invite the response “no shit, Sherlock”. But some of the detail is more interesting, and on the face of it more surprising.

Overall, nearly 63% of the more than 3000 teenagers surveyed said nicotine in e-cigarettes might cause health risks. This included 71% of those who had never vaped, and almost 50% of those currently using e-cigs.

Note here, however, that the entire survey was based on a leading question requiring a simple “yes” or “no” answer: “Do you think nicotine in e-cigarette products might cause health problems?”

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    There’s quite a bit to take issue with there, not least the specific attention on nicotine. But let’s leave that and move on to the interesting bits, which come in that socioeconomic and demographic breakdown.

    Perception of harm was:

    • 60% higher among girls than boys
    • 34% higher among white teens than African-Americans
    • 33% higher among suburban than urban residents
    • 28% higher among teens from high-income families (no shock, there, though where the line between high and low income was drawn is unclear)
    • 31% higher among those teens whose parents had obtained “a higher level of education” (again no surprise, and again the demarcation line is unspecified, at least by the American Heart Association, who publicised the report in the online Medical Xpress).

    Most unexpectedly, though, that harm perception was 40% higher among teens who identified as LGBTQ. What exactly is going on there? And how does it relate to the established fact that the prevalence of smoking is generally higher within what is loosely referred to as the LGBTQ community?

    Could it just be, perhaps, that the children of well-educated, white, middle-class parents find it easier to come out as LGBTQ than poor, black, inner-city kids, for many of whom it may not even seem like an option? If so, that figure may simply reflect the relative prevailing attitudes of those other groups.

    Time, perhaps, to go back and ask some slightly more searching and open-ended questions. And maybe to ask some kids – including, but not limited to, the LGBTQ, the socially deprived and the black kids – what they actually think.

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    Aidan Semmens