We have made significant strides in the fight against smoking and nicotine addiction since the 1960s, with smoking rates dropping dramatically among adults and children. Reducing smoking rates and gradually making smoking socially unacceptable has been a global effort involving prevention and cessation programs, media campaigns, smokefree air laws, increased taxation of cigarettes, and FDA oversight. . But all this progress is threatened by the introduction of the use of e-cigarettes, commonly known as âvapingâ, especially among young people; it is nothing less than an epidemic among middle and high school students.
We face a public health crisis with the potential of new generations of young people at risk of lifelong nicotine addiction with eventual illness and premature death. Vaping has been shown to be far from harmless and generally leads to smoking.
We are in a battle to get our kids back from vaping. My last column was about taxation to reduce the use of electronic cigarettes. Let’s look at another crucial action to discourage vaping in children.
In recent years, renewed attention from the public and policy makers has focused significantly on sweet-flavored vaping products that inspire young people to initiate and maintain their use. Examples include gummy bear, fruit, cotton candy, menthol, peanut butter cup, and cream cookies.
Most flavors were banned in cigarettes by federal regulations in 2009, but have been permitted in other tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars, and most disturbingly in electronic cigarettes. . The tobacco industry is well aware that these flavors appeal to children and their commercialization continues today through the vaping industry, largely controlled by tobacco companies. Eighty percent of youth who use tobacco products started with a flavored product. Seventy-two percent of young smokers use a flavored tobacco product. Two-thirds of young smokers report using tobacco products primarily because they are flavored.
The Trump administration lobbied for federal restrictions on flavored vaping products, which resulted in legislation being enacted. What started out as a substantial and meaningful ban has ultimately resulted in federal regulation with huge loopholes, which will potentially have relatively little effect. There are many exemptions, including disposable and refillable products and e-liquids found in vaping stores. The limited restrictions essentially only apply to stand-alone âclosed-podâ cartridges in products like Juul. The minty aroma is also exempt. More than 50% of children initiate and maintain their consumption with menthol products.
Only five states currently have comprehensive flavor bans in effect to bolster current weak federal legislation. To the credit of a number of more public health-conscious Indiana lawmakers, there has been genuine interest in a permanent ban on flavored products in recent legislative sessions; it should come as no surprise that nothing was promulgated.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration has finally stepped up efforts to potentially restrict flavored vaping products. Recently, the FDA has started to exercise its authority with denials of applications from some companies to market their flavored vaping products. Applications must include proof that their products have overall public health benefits, which were lacking. It is not yet clear how far this ban will go.
Don’t assume that recent federal legislation raising the legal age for smoking and vaping products to 21 will solve the youth vaping problem. Although this is an important action, just like alcohol, young people will have access to these prohibited products.
Vaping products are today’s candy cigarettes. Sugary cigarettes haven’t had a negative impact on children’s health, but vaping is another story.
Dr. Richard Feldman is an Indianapolis physician and former Indiana State Health Commissioner.