While federal and state policymakers apparently have taken a smoke break, e-cigarette use has boomed among kids.
A government survey released last week confirmed the worst fears of public health officials. In the absence of meaningful regulation, vaping, as it is known, has seeped into the mainstream, surpassing regular cigarette smoking among adolescents.
More than 17% of high school seniors, 16% of sophomores and, alarmingly, nearly 9% of eighth-graders said they had used an e-cigarette in the past month, according to the nationwide Monitoring the Future survey.
Just last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that e-cigarette use among high school students had more than doubled between 2011 and 2012. Only 4.7% of high schoolers had tried vaping three years ago when that study started.
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How could we have let this happen? Data have suggested for years that even in vapor form, nicotine is addictive and bad for children and that e-cigarettes and vape pens, with their candy flavorings, can act as a gateway to smoking for impressionable teens.
But for a variety of reasons, some understandable, some suspect, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking forever to craft e-cigarette regulations. The FDA needs to stop stalling. And California lawmakers need to step up in the feds’ absence.
Though vapers point out that e-cigarettes are less lethal than “analog” tobacco, long-term effects are unknown. Every day seems to unveil some potential new hazard, from carcinogens in the vapor to burns from shoddy quality control at e-cigarette factories in China. Yet 2014 saw one reasonable measure after another on e-cigarettes defeated at the state level.
Why? Maybe e-cigarette makers and the Big Tobacco firms that increasingly own them can supply the answer. Another study, this one by the University of California, San Francisco-based Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, found that, during the past seven years, from the Governor’s Office on down, the number of state lawmakers refusing tobacco money has dwindled.
As state lawmakers return to the Capitol, they should make it a priority to shut down the teenage market, not only for tobacco in general, but for e-cigarettes and vaping. That goes, too, for Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has joined other attorneys general in calling for tougher FDA regulations but taken little action on e-cigarettes beyond that.