Lena Mitchell

LENA MITCHELL

Vaping among teenagers and even younger children is a national health crisis.

The federal Centers for Disease Control reports that the incidence of middle school and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 11.7 percent in 2017 to 20.8 percent in 2018, prompting the surgeon general to issue a Public Health Advisory.

“I, Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, VADM Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of protecting our children from a lifetime of nicotine addiction and associated health risks by immediately addressing the epidemic of youth e-cigarette use. ... WE MUST TAKE ACTION NOW TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OF OUR NATION’S YOUNG PEOPLE.” (Surgeon general’s emphasis included.)

Last week North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit against eight more manufacturers of e-cigarettes, having filed one against manufacturer Juul a few months ago. (https://www.consumersafety.org/product-lawsuits/e-cigarette/)

Stein said the e-cigarette companies aggressively market to children.

“Bubble gum, fudge, French toast, gummy bear, unicorn – these are all names that are designed to appeal to young people,” Stein said in an interview with National Public Radio. “There’s survey data that shows, why do you vape, and flavors are the No. 1 reason why they vape. And Congress passed a law saying that tobacco manufacturers could no longer produce flavored cigarettes. There only remains tobacco flavored and menthol flavored cigarettes because we know that these flavors are what hook kids to nicotine.”

The Centers for Disease Control recently reported they had found one death linked to lung disease caused by vaping, but they are currently assessing another 20 cases.

In response to North Carolina’s move, and the possibility of other states following that path, an e-cigarette industry group filed its own lawsuit against the U.S. government last month to keep the Food and Drug Administration from reviewing these products.

Until now the FDA has been slow to take action to evaluate e-cigarettes, which have been on the market about a decade now, and contain not only highly addictive nicotine, but many other chemicals with unknown cancer-causing properties and other side effects.

After the FDA set a review deadline for the companies as far out as 2022, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and other anti-tobacco groups sued, winning an earlier review date in 2020, by which the companies must provide samples of their products to be evaluated.

And the battle against traditional cigarettes, chew and other tobacco products is not over.

President Obama signed a law in 2009 that would require more graphic warning labels about nicotine on cigarette packages and eliminate other harmful ingredients, but the FDA has dragged its feet on implementation.

Nicotine in all its forms causes more than half a million deaths in the United States each year.

The Mississippi lawsuit of the 1990s raised awareness of this crisis, and also raised the financial stakes for the tobacco companies.

Hopefully North Carolina, a leading tobacco growing state, will bring similar results in slowing the progress of nicotine addiction by young people through e-cigarettes.

LENA MITCHELL is a retired Daily Journal reporter who continues to write a regular column. Readers can contact her at lena.mitchell.dj@gmail.com.

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