The Hawaii State Legislature recently made national headlines when it introduced bill SB1009 that would have banned the sale and distribution of all flavored tobacco products except menthol. The intent was to reverse the growing trend of tobacco use, especially vaping, among teenagers. Although use of regular cigarettes by teens remains low, vaping has exploded. According to a 2017 survey by the Hawaii Health Department, 16% of middle schoolers and 26% of high schoolers vape. The company, Juul, which dominates the vape industry, has a verb named after it. As the bill says, “Vaping…has reached epidemic levels.”

The three Democratic senators who introduced the bill concluded that vape flavors and colorful packaging are what typically entice teenagers to try vaping. According to the bill itself, 81% of youth who had used a tobacco product reported that the first one they used was flavored. In addition, bright colors associated with different flavorings (not to mention the sleek, modern appearance of the typical vape) easily attract teenagers and kids.

Vapes were designed to have much greater visual appeal to young people than traditional cigarettes. Image: haiberliu via Pixabay.

However, vaping also poses health risks, especially to young people. Nicotine-addicted youth are at a higher risk for mood disorders and could have their impulse control permanently lowered. The parts of the brain responsible for attention and learning may be damaged. Depending on the brand and model, aerosol inhaled from vapes can contain diacetyl, which has been linked to lung disease, and heavy metals such as tin, nickel and lead. Vapes could also have long-term effects that have not been seen yet.

SB1009, aiming to avert these health risks, passed the Senate with the help of various teens who testified in support. The House Finance Committee, comprised of mostly Democrats, had to approve the bill by April 5 for a hearing on the floor. They deferred the bill instead, meaning it will be postponed for the remainder of the legislative session.

Among other arguments, opponents of the bill claimed that nicotine-addicted teens would simply turn to the Internet for flavored vapes. Legislators also cited the impact of the bill on local businesses, and claimed that the bill would be detrimental to older adults looking to quit smoking. The latter argument is frequently used by the vape industry, even though an investigation by Stanford researchers revealed that Juul targeted young people since the beginning of its launch. Also, vapes are not an FDA-approved smoking aid.

Although it ultimately did not become law, the reason SB1009 garnered so much attention was that, had it passed, it would have made Hawaii the first state to ban flavored vapes. More than one hundred cities have prohibited them, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston, but no states have. There are no federal restrictions on flavored vapes, even though the FDA, like the bill, has declared teen vaping an epidemic.

If you vape and would like to quit, text QUIT to 202-804-9884

Image: Lindsay Fox via Pixabay

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