Blair Horner: The Battle To Stop E-Cigs Moves To The Front Page
The electronic cigarette industry has done much to make up for the decline in tobacco consumption in America by getting the public to buy into its arguments that e-cigarettes are a “safer” alternative to smoking tobacco.
Of course, the electronic cigarette industry has never proven their products’ safety, they just assert the benefits. Now, after aggressively marketing their products – particularly their flavored products – the health damages are becoming more apparent.
Earlier this month the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the number of electronic cigarette use – or vaping – related illnesses had increased to at least 380 cases in 33 states and cautioned people about using e-cigarettes. In addition, the CDC reported five deaths from vaping-related respiratory illness.
And the flavored vaping has had a tremendous impact on the number of minors using these products. Five million minors, mostly in their high school years, reported that they had used e-cigarettes. About one-quarter of the nation’s high school students reported vaping within the last 30 days in this year’s annual survey, up from 20 percent last year.
This rapid increase in usage, as well as the growing number of reported illnesses and deaths, has pushed public officials to begin to act.
At the federal level, the federal Food and Drug Administration sent a warning to the largest electronic cigarette maker – Juul – that accused it of violating federal regulations by its promoting of its vaping products as a healthier alternative than traditional tobacco cigarettes. Next, the President has said that his Administration is considering a ban on all flavored vaping products.
Over this past weekend Governor Cuomo announced that the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council would take up regulations that would ban the sale of candy and fruit flavored vaping devices and pods.
One major difference between the Trump Administration’s and the Cuomo plans is that the federal regulations would include a ban on the sale of mint and menthol flavors, New York’s plan would not.
The governor’s rationale to defend his decision to allow menthol flavors to continue to be sold was his assertion that those menthol products could help people stop smoking traditional cigarettes. The governor’s surprising assertion is not backed up by the Food and Drug Administration which has not approved e-cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. In fact, a recent study found that most people who intended to use e-cigarettes to kick the nicotine habit ended up continuing to smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes.
Menthol is a particularly deadly flavor. When used in cigarettes, menthol poses a tremendous public health threat. A 2013 FDA report on the health impact of menthol cigarettes determined that menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction and decreased success in quitting smoking. Further, FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee’s concluded, “Removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.” When Ontario, Canada banned menthol cigarettes in early 2017, its initial evaluations suggested that the law resulted in increased attempts to quit and smoking cessation among adult menthol smokers. As a result, the Canadian government subsequently banned menthol cigarettes nationwide later in 2017.
Menthol has particularly appealing qualities for novice smokers. Menthol is a chemical compound that cools and numbs the throat, reducing the harshness of cigarette smoke, making menthol cigarettes more appealing to young people who are beginning to use tobacco.
Allowing the continued use of menthol vaping products makes little sense. The Trump Administration may, or may not, knock out menthol flavors. The track record of the President delivering on his promises is not great, but if he does, it would supersede New York’s weaker approach.
But the decision of the Cuomo Administration is only final when the Public Health Council acts. New Yorkers who care about curbing the deadly impact of vaping should hope that they go further than the governor’s statement and ban all flavored vaping products, including menthol.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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