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There are now nearly 1,500 cases of serious lung disease and 33 deaths linked to vaping. Those are the new numbers out today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As awareness of the dangers of vaping grow, the vape maker Juul has been feeling the pressure. Today it announced it's going to suspend sales of many of its flavored products. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Back in 2015, the Center for Environmental Health sued e-cigarette makers over the levels of formaldehyde found in the company's products. As the suit proceeded, vaping rates among teenagers began to climb, so the small nonprofit expanded its efforts to focus on Juul's marketing practices. Now they've announced a legally binding agreement. Here's the CEO of the environmental group Michael Green.
MICHAEL GREEN: This new agreement requires that Juul not market to teens or children in very specific ways.
AUBREY: Juul cannot advertise at sporting events or concerts that allow people under the age of 21. No appearances at schools, and the company can't use models in their ads that are under the age of 28. In a statement, Juul told NPR that the company is committed to combating underage use and that this new settlement affirms voluntary practices it already has in place. But the Center for Environmental Health Health's Michael Green says the settlement can help hold Juul accountable.
GREEN: We don't trust that. We think that their entire business model is based on addicting a new generation of young people, so the fact that it's court-enforceable means that we are going to watch them very closely. And if they violate it by one inch, we can go right back to court, and we can force them to stop.
AUBREY: The settlement is technically only enforceable in California and only for a finite period, so in the eyes of public health officials, it's a step in the right direction. The American Lung Association's Paul Billings says it will take more to rein in Juul, which is now partially owned by a big tobacco company.
PAUL BILLINGS: The tobacco industry has a long history of making loud public pronouncements and then failing to follow through.
AUBREY: So Billings says much more action is needed at the state and federal level.
BILLINGS: The federal government needs to eliminate all flavored e-cigarette products from the market.
AUBREY: Back in September the Trump administration announced plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes. So far, this hasn't happened. Billings says the Food and Drug Administration, the agency that has regulatory authority, needs to act.
BILLINGS: FDA's been dragging its feet for more than a decade when it comes to addressing e-cigarette products, and it's past time for FDA to enforce the law to provide oversight over e-cigarettes products.
AUBREY: The number of teens who vape doubled between 2017 and 2018, then rose again this year. Twenty-five percent of high school seniors say they've vaped in the last 30 days. Given this climb and vaping-related illnesses, lots of people would like to see action. That's what a new poll out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation found. Here's pollster Liz Hamel.
LIZ HAMEL: When it comes to banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, 52% were in support of a ban, and about half also supports a ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes.
AUBREY: It's the flavors - everything from watermelon to strawberry milk - that have been so appealing to teens. In its statement, Juul says the company agrees that no youth should use their products and says Juul exists solely to help adult smokers find an alternative to cigarettes. Today Juul announced it would suspend sales of most flavored products. Stan Glantz is a tobacco control expert at UC San Francisco. He says vaping has gotten a lot of young people addicted to nicotine. More research is needed, but...
STAN GLANTZ: They get addicted to Juul faster than they used to get addicted to cigarettes, and I think the reason for that is the technology. The use of nicotine salts allows the kids to inhale a much higher dose of nicotine per puff.
AUBREY: Making it harder to kick the habit.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.