Local lawmakers are co-sponsoring several bills aimed at addressing a sharp increase of vaping and e-cigarette use among minors, including legislation to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco, e-cigarettes, and vaping products from 18 to 21.
Lawmakers want to address what they describe as a marketing campaign to target and “hook” a new generation of tobacco users.
E-cigarettes have become popular among young people in large part because they come in flavors like cucumber, mango, and creme.
Vape product companies have been accused of targeting younger people through social media advertising campaigns. Some companies have publicly denied targeting younger users.
“Tobacco companies have found a new way to make today’s youth tomorrow’s customers,” said Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, who chairs the Senate’s Children’s and Public Health Committees. “Banning the sale of flavored vapor products will remove this strategy to hook customers at a young age.”
A team of Stanford University researchers studied the marketing campaign of JUUL, the country’s top-selling brand of e-cigarettes, from the company’s launch in 2015 until fall 2018. The researchers concluded JUUL’s marketing “was patently youth-oriented” after examining thousands of social media posts, ads, and emails.
JUUL spokesman Ted Kwong said the company’s initial marketing campaign in 2015, which received criticism, was “short-lived” and “intended for adults,” adding the company’s current advertising campaign “features testimonials from former adult smokers who made the switch off combustible tobacco with the JUULdevice.”
Teen use of e-cigarettes increased by 78 percent in the past year alone, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said at a December press conference. Adams declared the trend an “epidemic” and said the only way to fully reverse it is for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate e-cigarettes, including flavors.
Abrams has co-sponsored a bill to ban the sale of all flavored vaping products and another that would address online purchases of e-cigarette and vaping products by requiring an individual over 18 to sign for the package.
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, who chairs the House Committee on Children and has co-sponsored similar legislation, is concerned about people under 18 acquiring e-cigarettes and vaping products online by scanning their parent’s driver’s license.
Linehan said health advocates, parents, and minors have contacted her about vaping. She has co-sponsored five bills concerning vaping in total, including bills that would tax liquid vaping products at the same rate as other tobacco products, raise fines for selling vape products to minors, and raise the statewide minimum age for tobacco product purchases from 18 to 21.
“It’s obviously becoming a public health hazard. The effects of nicotine on the developing body are well documented,” Linehan said. “...We want to treat vaping just like tobacco.”
A single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes, according to the manufacturer.
Kwong said it was never JUUL’s intent “to have youth use JUUL products,” adding the company has taken steps to prevent youth use, including suspending the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores in November, strengthening the age verification of its website site, and eliminating its Facebook and Instagram accounts.
“JUUL Labs shares a common goal with policymakers, regulators, parents, school officials, and community stakeholders – preventing youth from initiating on nicotine,” Kwong said. “We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.”
Given that the vast majority of addicted smokers begin smoking before turning 21, the hope among people concerned about the rise in youth vaping is that increasing the purchasing age to 21 will prevent young people from becoming addicted long term.
While state lawmakers want to raise the tobacco-purchasing age to 21, several area municipalities have already discussed local ordinances that would do the same, including Meriden, Wallingford, and Cheshire.
“Don’t wait for us,” Linehan said. “There are those of us in the legislature that want this to happen, but state government is so much larger, so if they can pass an ordinance first, I support that.”
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he hasn’t had a chance to go through the recently proposed vaping bills, but said he is to “open to discussion about protections for minors.”
Sampson, who represents Southington, added he is against high taxes levied on cigarettes and other tobacco products for adults who legally purchase the products.
“If something is harmful, then ban it. But if you're going to say it’s harmful and then tax it more (to fund important programs), I think that’s a little hypocritical,” Sampson said.