For years, parents have been bombarded with the message that e-cigarettes are going to “hook the next generation on tobacco.” As a parent, it’s nearly impossible to ignore this alarmism. Yet, parents should recognize this as exactly that—alarmism. While the media and policymakers have continued to suggest youth vaping is an epidemic, what’s actually killing teenagers—in droves—is kids consuming fake pills containing fentanyl.
In case you missed it, youth vaping numbers are declining. According to data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, in 2021, only 11.6% of high school students and 2.8% of middle school students reported having used a vapor product on at least one occasion in the month prior to the survey. That’s not habitual use, that’s experimentation—a common behavior among young people. Unfortunate? Sure. But these are not statistics that should be described as hooking a generation on tobacco.
Parents rarely hear the good news that among high school students, youth vaping rates have declined by 41.8% since 2020 and by 58.9% since 2019. Meanwhile, teen overdose deaths are way up. A 2022 research study found that teen overdose deaths increased by 94% “from 492 in 2019 to 954 in 2020.” And it only continued: there “was an additional 20% rise in 2021 compared to the previous year.” The rise in overdose deaths has largely been blamed on fake pills disguised to look like FDA-approved prescription pills, designed to attract youth.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) remarked in 2021 that there were “indications that drug trafficking organizations are specifically targeting kids and teens by creating counterfeit pills in a variety of shapes and bright colors to appeal to that age group.”
According to 2020 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, over six thousand Americans aged 24 years or younger died from an opioid overdose in 2020. While age-specific data for 2021 is unavailable, U.S. overdose deaths increased by 15% between 2020 and 2021, with nearly 100,000 Americans succumbing to a fatal overdose. Absent national pressure from policymakers and public health groups that continue to treat vaping as the worst thing to happen to kids, parents of children who have died from an overdose have started grassroots groups to try to bring attention to a growing problem they did not know existed.
While public health obsesses about the make-believe epidemic of vaping, the real problem of illicit fentanyl grows. Parents ought to worry more about fake pills than vapes.