It’s time to come together to stand up against the scourge of electronic cigarette use among Montana kids. As you’ve likely seen in the news, Gov. Steve Bullock recently announced a sales restriction on flavored e-cigarettes, including Juul and other vaping products, for 120 days. The governor took this step after deep consideration of the outbreak of Vaping Associated Pulmonary Illness (VAPI) in our own state. A Montana teenager died recently as a result of vaping. What will it take for us to look past the outrage of the vaping industry protesting their lost profits? How many of our fellow Montanans need to die before we can act without gratuitous lawsuits to block public health action?
In Montana 30 percent of high schoolers are consistently using these products, a 263 percent increase in the past two years, according to the 2019 Montana Youth Behavior Risk Survey. The fact is, kids are drawn to e-cigarettes because of the flavors – flavors such as gummy bear, unicorn sprinkles, and mango – which appeal to kids and mask the harsh flavors of the nicotine and other chemicals in the aerosol they are inhaling. Kids are becoming addicted to the nicotine, which is harmful for young brains and sets neuropathways up for further addictive behavior. Kids who use these products are four times more likely to subsequently use traditional cigarettes, according to a 2017 study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The response from the electronic cigarette or vaping industry is troubling. If these products are designed only as an alternative for adult smokers, then why are teens, most of whom have never used a traditional cigarette, using them at such a high rate? Cigarette use among youth is about 5 percent, but now 30 percent of our teens are using e-cigarettes and nearly all (97 percent) current users use a flavored product.The industry’s response? Little more than as if to say, “Gosh, we don’t know. Those darn teenagers.”
The appropriate response is this: Remove the non-tobacco flavors from the marketplace. Flavors in tobacco products are a real threat to our children’s health. Flavors lure our kids to these products, and kids whose first tobacco product was flavored are more likely to use tobacco products regularly than those whose first product was tobacco-flavored.
Despite what you may be hearing from the opposition, this is the truth: The FDA has only begun to look at these products, and they are not required to be put through any regulatory process until May of 2020. None of these products, whether ”black market” or sold in stores, have yet been required to be safety tested. As the FDA’s acting commissioner testified last month, “There is no FDA-authorized or FDA-approved ENDS [electronic nicotine delivery system] product currently on the market.” It’s also worth noting that in all the illnesses and deaths associated with vaping, there has not been one product, brand or substance that has been linked to all the cases. The common denominator has been electronic cigarette/vaping use itself.
We applaud Bullock’s effort to curb the epidemic levels of e-cigarette use and hope to see the sales restriction upheld in court. This is one important piece of the puzzle, but we need to do more at all levels from educating our kids about the dangers of tobacco use and nicotine addiction to supporting additional tobacco prevention efforts locally. Together, we can make sure Montana is on the right side of history with this issue.
Dr. Douglas Waldo, Billings Clinic Heart and Vascular
Amanda Cahill, American Heart Association