Monday, September 30, 2019

To Protect Youth from Progression to Cigarette Smoking, Truth Initiative Wants to Ban the Fake Ones But Let Real Cigarettes Remain on the Shelves

In an op-ed piece published by CNN last Friday, the president of the Truth Initiative bemoaned the "epidemic" of vaping among our nation's youth, arguing that electronic cigarette use leads to smoking. She cited research which shows "that young people who vape are more likely than their peers who don't vape to smoke traditional cigarettes in the future."

And what does the Truth Initiative propose should be done to prevent a massive youth migration to cigarette smoking?

A. Ban or severely restrict the sale of cigarettes.
B. Ban or severely restrict the sale of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
C. Neither of the above.

The answer ...

... C. Neither of the above.

Instead, the Truth Initiative is calling for option D:

D. Only ban flavored e-cigarettes, but leave cigarettes on the shelves, easily accessible to youth in every convenience store and gas station in the country.

The Rest of the Story

I'm sorry, but there is simply no justification for banning the sale of most electronic cigarettes but allowing real cigarettes, which kill more than 400,000 Americans each year, to remain on the shelves, almost completely unregulated.

One of the major arguments that the Truth Initiative CEO offers to support her call for a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes is that when JUUL pulled its flavors other than mint and menthol from store shelves, youth simply switched to mint and menthol flavors. But if that's true, then shouldn't we be concerned that if flavored e-cigarettes are banned, youth will simply switch to tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes?

If the Truth Initiative is genuinely concerned about youth vaping, then there is no justification for it failing to call for a ban on all e-cigarettes. By its own logic, leaving tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes will simply result in youth switching to tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes.

OK, so you're thinking that kids are not going to switch from a candy- or fruit-flavored e-liquid to a tobacco-flavored one? Fine, but if that's the case, then it's even less logical to argue that kids are going to switch from fruit-flavored e-cigarettes to the harsh, tobacco-flavored real ones. You can't credibly make the argument that youth will avoid the tobacco flavor of e-cigarettes, but get hooked on the tobacco flavor of real cigarettes.

The truth, of course, is that kids are not getting hooked on flavored e-cigarettes and then progressing to tobacco-flavored real cigarettes. They are using flavored e-cigarettes specifically because they want to avoid the health consequences that they all know are associated with the tobacco-flavored real cigarettes.

So if youth are not going to switch from flavored e-liquids to tobacco-flavored e-liquids, what are they going to switch to?

The answer is THC e-liquids, many of which are packaged in kid-friendly brands like "Apple Jacks," "Banana OG," "Birthday Cake," "Black Berry Kush," "Blue Dream," "Blueberry Kush," "Bubble Gum," "Candy Land," "Cherry Pie," "Cotton Candy," "Fruity Pebbles," "Gelato," "Grape Ape," "Grape Stomper," "Green Crack," "Honey Berry," "Honey Dew," "Ice Blue Raspberry," "Key Lime Pie," "Lemon Berry," "Lemon Head," "Lemon Slushie," "LSD," "Mai Tai," "Mango Kush," "Maui Wowie," "Mimosa," "Mojito," "Orange Chai," "Orange Cookies," "Orange Daiquiri," "Peach," "Pineapple Express," "Pot of Gold," "Purple Punch," "Rose Gold," "Russian Cream," "Sour Apple," "Strawberry Shortcake," "Sweet Aromatic," "Tangie," "Vanilla Kush," "Water Melon," "Wedding Cake," and "Zskittlez."

These are precisely the black market products that have led to more than 800 cases of severe respiratory failure, most among young people, with 13 fatalities.

The Truth Initiative's proposal to ban all flavored e-cigarettes would result in a shift from flavored e-liquids to the increased use of flavored e-joints, and it would make the current respiratory disease outbreak much worse, potentially resulting in more deaths. Does the Truth Initiative really want those severe illnesses and deaths on its hands?

This is before we even get to talking about the effects that a flavored e-cigarette ban would have on adults, which include a mass return to cigarette smoking or entrance into a new black market for flavored e-liquids, which might eventually result in an even worse disease outbreak in the future, since the number of adults using these products and thus subject to any contaminant that may arise in these black market products will be immense.

The Truth Initiative has apparently written off adult smokers completely at this point. The op-ed views them as being expendable: "the current environment is not about providing well-regulated e-cigarette technology for adult smokers who otherwise won't quit." This is a complete betrayal of a central part of the mission of the Truth Initiative, which was to "reduce tobacco use" by "increasing successful quit rates, and reducing disparities in access to prevention and cessation services."

The rest of the story is that the Truth Initiative has steered away from its original mission and its policy proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes would severely harm the health of both youth and adults across the nation.

There is a better alternative, and it involves Option B above; specifically, restrict the sale of all tobacco products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes to stores that can only sell these products and are only open to people ages 21+. Ironically, it is the nation's vape shops and most of the vaping industry -- and not health groups -- that are pushing for such a policy change.

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