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Editorial: Crack down on sales of addictive flavored vape liquids to kids

A few weeks back, parents and students at Manchester Valley High School and North Carroll Middle School were invited to separate presentations to discuss trends of vaping and “Juuling,” named after a popular electronic cigarette device popular with teens because it is easy to conceal.

The presentation, called “See through the Smoke,” was an attempt to sort through the facts and myths about vaping, particularly as it comes to teens, and was funded by a grant from the Cigarette Restitution Fund through the Carroll County Health Department.

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Many longtime smokers have used e-cigarettes or vaping devices to wean themselves off of smoking harmful tobacco products, but much like cigarettes of their day, there is still debate over the long-term health effects of vaping.

Because many of the vape juices or Juul pods contain just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, making them just as addictive, it could be problematic if it turns out these products do cause health problems like tobacco does. There’s also a report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that says young people who vape are more likely to try traditional cigarettes than their peers.

Of particular concern is that these products, with juices that are fruit- and candy-flavored, seem to be marketed toward young people, even as manufacturers deny this.

In a response sent to the Carroll County Times after learning of the school presentations, a representative from the Juul company wrote: “We cannot be more emphatic on this point: no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try Juul. Underage use of Juul and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

Still, evidence is mounting that more teens are using these sorts of products. The Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the National Youth Tobacco Survey on Nov. 15, showing 3.6 million high school and middle school students are using some sort of e-cigarette; that was a 1.5 million increase from the previous year. A majority of students reported using flavored vape products.

Coinciding with the release of that report was a statement by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that the agency plans to limit the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in stores where those under the age of 18 can freely shop. The FDA stopped short of banning sweet-flavored vaping products outright.

However, there is no indication when those new rules will go into effect. In his statement, Gottlieb called on manufacturers voluntarily taking these flavored products off shelves or websites where children can access them within 90 days of his announcement. We have our doubts these companies will do so if it would significantly impact the bottom line without being legally compelled to do so.

In fact, it could be years before we see any change in regulations at the federal level. That leaves it up to state and local lawmakers to be proactive.

The Maryland General Assembly last year passed a law that a retailer may be charged with a criminal misdemeanor for selling or distributing “Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems” products to minors. The bill also criminalized possession of such devices by minors. This was a good step toward curbing teen usage of these products.

Baltimore city recently introduced bills to ban the sale of flavored vaping liquids as part of a package of legislation designed to curb smoking and vaping there.

Our Carroll County commissioners and legislators to Annapolis should consider local legislation that would force e-cigarette retailers to comply sooner with what will ultimately be federal law by limiting access of flavored vape liquids to kids.

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