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Addiction prevention agency hopes e-cigarette measures have snowball effect

November 17, 2018

Eastern Connecticut’s leading addiction prevention nonprofit is hopeful that steps taken to curb youth use of flavored e-cigarettes this week could lead to similar legislation state- and nationwide.

Angela Duhaime, transition manager for the Southeastern Regional Action Council, or SERAC, said she’s pleased with e-cigarette company Juul Labs, which on Tuesday said it temporarily would pull most of its flavors from more than 90,000 stores. 

The company has come under fire for fueling growing e-cigarette use among youth, which the Food and Drug Administration declared an epidemic in September.

The FDA said 3.62 million middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes to inhale nicotine vapor this year, which is a 48 percent and 78 percent increase among middle and high school students, respectively, over last year.

“The FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in his September statement.

Juul, a popular choice in part because its device looks like a USB drive, also shuttered its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Duhaime said SERAC, which covers 39 towns in New London and Windham counties, knows Juul’s efforts aren’t perfect. Mint, one of the company’s most popular flavors, is not included in the suspension, for example. And stores, if they prove they’re using age verification technology, will be able to sell the other flavors again.

“But as preventionists ... we’re always talking about, how can we engage companies and doctors so when they’re called to action, their response is on the mark?” Duhaime said. “There are plenty of flaws ... but I wouldn’t want to alienate Juul. They’re potentially laying the foundation for what could launch larger state and federal action.”

Indeed, the FDA, which had threatened to ban flavored e-cigarettes altogether, announced Thursday that stores could sell such products only if they’re in a closed-off area inaccessible to teenagers.

The FDA hasn’t yet detailed what a store would have to do to meet the new requirement.

Duhaime said she has seen a local increase in requests for forums about e-cigarette use from the community, and also has seen more people asking for referrals to clinicians who can help with the resulting addiction.

In a recent SERAC survey of about 8,500 middle and high school students in 12 local communities, 9 percent reported ever having used an e-cigarette, with 11th and 12th graders most likely to have done so.

Duhaime said many past anti-smoking advertising campaigns focused on tobacco as the problem, which could explain why youth seem to consider inhaling nicotine vapor, or “vaping,” less dangerous.

She hopes to help launch efforts to address those who already are addicted and to get the message out to others before they start using.

“As substances change, people find different ways of ingestion,” Duhaime said of nicotine, which the federal government considers a “highly addictive” drug. “I’d educate on the ingestion of nicotine and its effects instead of focusing on the device.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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