Let’s stop nicotine addiction in young people

December 3, 2018

The Albuquerque Journal reported on Sept. 17 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warnings to 22 New Mexico businesses and fined one for selling electronic cigarettes to minors. It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes and tobacco to people younger than 18. The perpetrators include some of the nation’s largest mainstream retailers and convenience stores, including Walmart, Walgreens and 7-Eleven, illustrating why policymakers must take tough action at the state and local level now.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has stated that e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” among teenagers has reached “an epidemic proportion.” New Mexico’s youth are no exception. The FDA listened to public health advocates, parents and teachers, and is to be commended for taking bold action — but more help is needed.

E-cigarette devices heat liquid — frequently infused with nicotine — into an inhalable vapor. They are sold in more than 7,000 sugary flavors targeted to kids, like mango, raspberry and cotton candy. High-tech, high-nicotine vaping products like Juul and Blu are addicting a new generation of young people, putting them at risk for even more dangerous smoking tobacco use that would reverse decades of progress.

E-cigarettes pose serious health risks for kids. While e-cigarettes do not contain all of the harmful substances of cigarettes, they do possess dangerous substances such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and other toxic chemicals.

There has been a 75 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students in the U.S. in the past year alone, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey. It is no accident. The companies market their products to young people and kids with slick ad campaigns using social media. Millions of teenagers have seen these ads that have made e-cigarettes extremely popular. And more than 30 percent of teens who smoke e-cigarettes go on to smoke traditional tobacco.

Smoking costs our state $844 million in direct health care and Medicaid every year, resulting in countless deaths, diseases and cancers. The overall cost to our state is an astronomical $1.4 billion. This is a tax on all of us that we pay one way or another — all for profits for the tobacco companies.

We can no longer afford to idly sit by as a younger generation is tricked into nicotine addiction. That is why in the coming meeting of the state Legislature, I will push strong preventive measures to keep kids safe.

First, we should increase the tax on cigarettes and especially e-cigarettes by $1.50. The tax would increase from $1.66 to $3.16 in New Mexico, generating $90 million annually. The connection between the price of cigarettes and people actually smoking is well established. It would keep thousands of kids from ever taking up smoking or e-cigarettes, and save the state millions of dollars in public health, insurance, lost wages and all the other associated costs. We have seen this legislation before, but now is the time to enact it.

Second, clean air is a basic human right of everyone. The health dangers of secondhand smoke from traditional cigarettes is well known, but what about vaping substances? Reform is needed to prohibit e-cigarette use in all public places, including government buildings, public schools and universities.

Lastly, without a change to the policy that ignores the use of kid-friendly flavorings in vapor products, the soaring growth in the use of dangerous e-cigarettes by children will continue. We must ban flavored liquids in electronic cigarettes once and for all.

New Mexico, with its high rate of poverty and large population of at-risk children, is on the front line of the surging threat to health caused by e-cigarettes. We cannot wait for the FDA to address every problem associated with it, and we cannot cede authority to the industry to police itself.

Epidemics demand strong action. If we care about the children of New Mexico as much as we say we do, then let’s put the brakes on vaping now.

Cisco McSorley is a Democratic member of the New Mexico Senate, representing District 16 since 1997.

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