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Editorial Teen vaping should set off alarms

February 10, 2019

For Big Tobacco, millennials represent The Lost Generation.

People reaching adulthood in recent years got the message about tobacco and avoided smoking. The industry found it harder to lure teenagers to smoke in the 21st century.

There is no better evidence that change — true social change — is possible.

Vaping has been pitched as a remedy for people struggling to kick the habit, as it lacks the tar produced by tobacco products. But it contains nicotine, which is highly addictive, as well as other toxins. A single Juul e-cigarette pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of tobacco cigarettes.

For the industry, today’s teen customers are The Found Generation. They’ve been tempted back with flavors more commonly seen in a kid’s bag of trick-or-treats. The trick is that it’s drawing youth back to tobacco products.

Doses of Sweet Tarts, Gummy or doughnuts are considerably more inviting than ingredients such as propylene glycol, which is also used in antifreeze.

You may be missing the phenomenon, but it hasn’t escaped the attention of educators. The Connecticut Department of Education has reached out for help from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Tobacco kills far more people than the opioid crisis, guns and car accidents annually — combined. It just does it slowly.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who is co-chair of the Public Health Committee, deserves credit for calling vaping a crisis in our schools. It is not a leap, as the U.S. Surgeon General recently declared use by teens to be an epidemic.

He’s not alone in Hartford in his efforts to temper it. Lawmakers, heeding a new report that cites a six-fold increase in the number of suspensions and expulsions related to vaping in state schools, are tripping over one another to craft related legislation.

Among the proposed measures is a pitch to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products — including e-cigarettes — from 18 to 21.

Bridgeport and Hartford already follow such guidelines, but the American Lung Association has slapped Connecticut with “F” grades for not only keeping the age at 18, but devoting zero resources to smoking cessation.

To improve such grades, teachers and legislators must become students. They should draw teenagers into the discourse to push forward the best laws regarding fines, flavored products and taxes.

As they sound the alarm over vaping, some lawmakers also need to recognize the potential hypocrisy of scrambling to legalize recreational marijuana. That doesn’t mean skipping the conversation. Connecticut, and other states, are long overdue to correct the racial justice divide regarding marijuana arrests.

The potential income, even in a state as busted as Connecticut, must be weighed against the potential health perils for future generations.

Connecticut has failed regarding tobacco, is flailing in the face of vaping, and is becoming addicted to the idea of drawing income from marijuana sales. We’re not confident lawmakers can yet see clearly through the haze.

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