Two Massachusetts officials have released plans to combat youth vaping over the past month, just before the Food and Drug Administration publicized its plan to curtail sales of e-cigarettes and provide checks on retailers.
Newton’s mayor, Ruthanne Fuller, has proposed to limit sales on vape products, calling usage an “epidemic” among young people in her email to her constituents at the end of June. Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Attorney General, testified earlier this month that vaping products should not be allowed to have flavors, as they attract teenage customers.
In Fuller’s plan, e-cigarette sales would be limited to the two adult-only tobacco stores in Newton—Vape Daddy on Watertown Street and Garden City Vape and Smoke on Lincoln Street—taking all products out of gas stations and convenience stores.
Mary Ann Chirba, a professor at Boston College Law School, teaches health law as well as global public health courses to undergraduates. Over the past several years, vaping and its effects have come up in class.
“I think to the extent that municipal governments can chip in, that’s great,” Chirba said of Fuller’s proposal. “In terms of her specific plan, it’s got advantages and disadvantages.”
Some business owners have spoken out against the plan, saying that it will take away revenue from their shops and provide an unfair advantage to the two stores listed as adult-only retailers. Others have said that limiting access to vape products can be disadvantageous to people who are using them to quit smoking cigarettes.
The public health benefit of vaping—that the practice is still less harmful than smoking cigarettes—is a classic example of harm reduction, a common public health strategy based on the concept of not letting “the perfect be the enemy of good,” Chirba said.
Healey has issued her support for bills that will ban flavored e-cigarettes in Massachusetts.
“The research is clear: Flavor in tobacco products increases their appeal to young people and promotes initiation,” Healey said during the Joint Committee on Public Health hearing on Tuesday, according to MassLive. “The good news is we know what works. We’ve fought Big Tobacco before and won.”
Healey’s office has sued Eonsmoke, a New Jersey-based e-cigarette company, for its marketing that she says is targeted toward minors.
“Eonsmoke markets these nicotine products with advertising content that both references youth popular culture, including memes, profanity and sexual imagery, and misleads consumers by omitting or minimizing the fact that most of its vaping products contain nicotine,” the suit says.
The FDA is initiating its own media campaign next month, The Real Cost. Intended for people ages 12 to 17, it utilizes images of kids and interactive games to describe the risks of using e-cigarettes.
Many teens who have started vaping did not realize how quickly and easily they could become addicted, and regulators acted too slowly in addressing how quickly the practice was taking off—creating a huge problem for everyone, according to Chirba.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will acknowledge that the FDA bought into the idea that vaping was a good harm reduction tool for too long, she said. Now, the agency has realized it was too late in acknowledging how rapidly many nicotine- or tobacco-naive people, meaning teenagers who did not have a cigarette habit to break, were picking up the practice and becoming addicted.
E-cigarette use increased by 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the FDA’s National Youth Tobacco Survey. Teenagers who use flavored e-cigarettes for their first use of tobacco are more likely to become addicted than those who use tobacco-flavored products the first time, the study said.
Eighteen percent of 11th- and 12th-graders in Newton reported using e-cigarettes in the city’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Two out of three students said it would be easy to get e-cigarettes such as Juul and hookah pens—while 60 percent said it would be easy to get alcohol, and half said the same of marijuana.
Another way to curb teen use, Chirba said, would be to heavily tax the product, as lawmakers did with tobacco in the ’90s. Most kids don’t have the income required to consistently pay for the product, forcing them to break their own habits. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker proposed to add a tax to vape products in February, with Healey voicing her approval in April.
The three biggest steps to take immediately would be imposing a heavy tax on vaping products, restricting visual designs, and eliminating flavors, Chirba said.
Featured Image by Jonathon Ye / Heights Editor