Our View: E-cigarette restrictions not happening fast enough

October 10, 2018

About a month ago, the Food and Drug Administration gave e-cigarette manufacturers a warning: Keep your products away from high-schoolers.

The FDA gave the makers of e-cigarettes 60 days to show they can keep retailers from selling the devices to minors.

If a plan doesn’t emerge, the FDA warned that it could remove e-cigarette products from the market.

It’s possible that the FDA could follow through on these threats, but it’s a sure bet that the tobacco industry won’t work too hard to keep itself in check. As we wait for regulations to kick in, experts claim that tobacco use among minors has reached epidemic levels.

According to the CDC, tobacco use among adults has steadily decreased since the 1960s and the number of current cigarette smokers hovered around 19 percent of the population in 2014.

On the contrary, the percent of high school students who had smoked one or more cigarettes in the last 30 days peaked in the late 1990s and jumped upwards again in the mid-2000s, finally descending to a little under 17 percent in 2014.

That’s not ideal, but it’s workable. If things had continued their downward trend from there, we might be well under 15 percent for each population.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

E-cigarettes, a product originally designed to help smokers quit cigarettes, have seen increasing popularity in the past few years.

Juul Labs, a manufacturer of e-cigarettes and flavored pods for those devices, saw an 800 percent sales increase from last summer to this one.

On the flip side, according to the CDC, cigarette sales were down in 2017 — about 249 billion cigarettes were sold, compared to 258 billion in 2016.

E-cigarettes and vapes are unique, in that they use fruit and candy flavors to attract young users.

In 2017, nearly 12 percent of high school students admitted to using e-cigarettes, of the nearly 20 percent that responded to the National Youth Tobacco Surveys.

Studies indicate that teens who vape are likely to become adults who smoke traditional cigarettes. And while e-cigarettes may be less carcinogenic than traditional cigarettes, the nicotine contained in them is still addictive. Note: we said “less carcinogenic.” A research paper in the journal Pediatrics still found carcinogens in teenagers who only smoked e-cigarettes.

According to Rochester Public Schools, use of a tobacco-related device — including e-cigarettes and any other object made of or designed to allow people to inhale tobacco products — on school property is a Level II offense in the student handbook, subject to any disciplinary action like reaching out to family, reteaching expectations, and/or removing a student from school for less than a day, in-school or out-of-school suspension, consultation with a counselor or behavioral specialist, or — in truly serious situations, we assume — expulsion.

Other Level II offenses include physical aggression, harassment, illegal conduct, and sexual assault. All drug-related offenses fall under this category.

Clearly, though, that’s not enough to stop students from smoking — if not at school, then outside of it.

Whatever the FDA plans to do, it should hurry up — or risk raising a new generation of smokers.

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