There are still many unknowns involving e-cigarettes, including much about their long-term effects and the definitive cause or causes of a growing number of vaping-related lung illnesses.
What is clear, however, are the health risks these nicotine products pose to young people.
“The recent surge in e-cigarette use among youth, which has been fueled by new types of e-cigarettes that have recently entered the market, is a cause for great concern,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in a December 2018 advisory. “We must take action now to protect the health of our nation’s young people.”
A recent report available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website outlines how use of flavored e-cigarettes increased between 2014-2018 among high school students, and from 2015-2018 among middle school students.
“The high prevalence of flavored tobacco product use among middle and high school students is a concern because flavors can increase the appeal of tobacco products to youths, promote youth initiation of tobacco products, and result in lifelong tobacco product use,” according to the report.
The Trump administration has been expected to unveil a long-anticipated ban on flavored tobacco products. That anticipated move — welcomed by many public health officials, advocates and lawmakers — has met resistance from the vaping industry, some researchers and adults who have turned to e-cigarettes as a way to quit conventional cigarettes.
Jonathan Foulds, an addiction researcher and tobacco specialist at Penn State University, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, which have the potential to help transition away from combustible tobacco products, “could take us from potentially the single biggest improvement in public health in the United States toward a public health disaster in which cigarettes continue to be the dominant nicotine product.”
These dueling impacts of e-cigarettes, above all, call for caution and careful consideration as the federal government looks to strengthen regulation. But the Trump administration is right to prioritize youth health.
Last Friday, President Donald Trump said his administration’s position on vaping would be forthcoming this week.
“We’re going to be coming out with an important position on vaping. We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” Trump said.
“We’re talking about the age, we’re talking about flavors, we’re also talking about keeping people working, and there’s some pretty good aspects,” Trump said Friday, according to the Hill. “We’re coming out, we’re very close to a final report, and we’ll be giving it next week.”
His comments have led to some uncertainty as to whether the administration will pursue an increased legal age for e-cigarette use to 21 — something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell has already proposed for all tobacco products — and potentially forgo the planned ban on flavored e-cigarette products.
We hope both options remain on the table.
“Will be meeting with representatives of the Vaping industry, together with medical professionals and individual state representatives, to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma,” President Donald Trump tweeted Monday. “Children’s health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!”
Policymakers should be careful about overreacting to unknowns, but there’s plenty known about the health risks involved with youth use of e-cigarettes to justify increased federal regulation. The question for regulators and legislators at the federal level will be how to reduce teen e-cigarette use while ensuring these products can continue to be what some researchers call an “off-ramp” for adults looking to quit smoking.
Maine and several other states have already demonstrated a possible path forward by raising the legal age for all tobacco purchases to 21. Raising the age should be a floor, not a ceiling, for potential federal steps to reduce youth use of e-cigarettes.