BALTIMORE SUN | OCT 30, 2019 | 3:50 PM
The country’s vaping crisis, and the lives it has claimed, has brought new attention to the candy and fruit-flavored tobacco products that have proven to get young people hooked on nicotine. Maryland and other local jurisdictions across the country are pushing for partial or all out bans on the products with names straight out of the candy aisle, like Arctic Ice and Banana Smash.
We think the time is right as gains made in smoking prevention have been threatened by the growing popularity in e-cigarettes, which aren’t as highly regulated as traditional cigarettes. Nationally, from 2017 to 2018, use of tobacco products grew by nearly 40% among high school students. The use of electronic smoking devices increased by 78%, according to the Maryland Health Department.
If the Trump administration follows through with a proposal it introduced earlier this year, tobacco companies would be prohibited from selling flavored e-cigarettes. Taking it a step further, Maryland Del. Derek Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat, is working on legislation that would outlaw sales of all flavored tobacco products. He hopes to get Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh on board with his plan.
We don’t yet know the full details of what Mr. Davis will present to his fellow lawmakers, but we support getting products off the shelves that entice impressionable young people to take up a habit with long-term health consequences that will follow them for a lifetime. No, they can’t legally buy the products, but we all know they can get their hands on them.
Anything less than a full ban will not be meaningful enough. History proves that. The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act banned sales of just about all flavored cigarettes except menthol. Tobacco companies could still market cigars, cigarettes or e-cigarettes infused with flavors. It’s not surprising that these days e-cigarettes are the chose of the younger generation and most — 64% by one estimate — use flavors. They are likely to continue smoking or vaping well into adulthood. Nearly 90% of Maryland’s current adult smokers started before age 21, according to a state health department study.
Flavored tobacco products may have chemicals other than nicotine that make people want to smoke. Researchers from Yale and Duke Universities, in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, found evidence that manufacturers used sweeteners, such as sucralose in flavored cigarillos that reduced “the aversive sensation” and made them more “palatable.” In other words, it made them taste good to people and takes away the bitter tobacco taste that might otherwise turn them off.
It is smart for Maryland to take a proactive approach and not wait for changes in federal law, and not only because the Trump proposal is limited to e-cigarettes. Already, health advocates are worried the administration is waffling on the idea and may eliminate menthol and mint products from the ban. Fifty groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging him to follow through with the original proposal.
The largest manufacturer of e-cigarettes, JUUL Labs, said earlier this month that it would stop making most flavored e-cigarettes, but not menthol and mint. That also does not go far enough. Why not an all out ban? Could it be plenty of people won’t indulge in a tobacco-flavored product? On top of that, there are plenty of other manufacturers likely willing to take that market share that JUUL has abandoned. A ban is the only way to get these products off the market.
We can see the critics of this idea rolling their eyes. They will cry over regulation and too much government intervention. They will argue that picking up the habit of smoking is a personal choice.
But we all know teenagers don’t make the best decision makers. They are thinking about next month’s prom or the girl they are crushing on, not if they will have lung cancer when they turn 50 or trouble catching a breath at age 40. We need to save them from themselves. There is a reason that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has declared youth vaping an epidemic. We should all take heed.
Maryland already took a bold step in protecting young people by raising the smoking age to 21, another initiative proposed by Mr. Davis. Let’s hope lawmakers have the fortitude to ban flavors as well.