Political opposites agree on teen vaping: Get rid of the flavors that lure kids

Political opposites agree on teen vaping: Get rid of the flavors that lure kids
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As a former Hill staffer for Democrats and a former Republican Hill staffer and health adviser to President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE, we have fundamental disagreements on issues of health policy. 

But we also remember a time when people from across the aisle put aside partisanship to achieve things they agreed on, simply because they cared about America and its future.

For us, today, that issue is the teen e-cigarette, or vaping, epidemic. 

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We’re sick of business models built around addicting kids — to traditional cigarettes in the past, for example, and now to nicotine-packed e-cigarettes. We are outraged that highly addictive e-cigarette products have been cynically or illegally targeted at teens, hiding the health risks behind flavors like fruit, mint and menthol. 

Most of all, we are alarmed that in less than a decade, tremendous progress in reducing teen tobacco use has been reversed. As teen cigarette smoking has dropped, vaping has surged. In 2011, a mere 1.5 percent of high schoolers used e-cigarettes. Now, more than one in four do. In just the past two years, the number of kids who vape more than doubled, reaching 5.3 million.

This appalling trend didn’t happen by accident. And if we don’t act now to reverse it, things will get worse. 

Knowing this, and despite our other differences, we both agree that the Trump administration did the right thing in September when it said it would clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes, and manufacturers could then apply to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put products back on the market if they demonstrated a net public health benefit. Given the clear evidence that flavored e-cigarettes have fueled the youth epidemic, the immediate removal of these products is a critical step in stemming the tide of teen addiction. 

But news reports now say Big Tobacco and its allies have pressured the Trump administration to back down from its promise. 

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Vaping has spread because of cracks in the system. E-cigarette companies claimed their products were meant to help adult smokers quit even as their sleek, sweet-smelling and easily concealed products also appealed to kids.

They failed to scientifically demonstrate, as required by federal law, that benefits for adult smokers who may quit thanks to e-cigarettes are not offset by a new generation of nonsmokers becoming addicted to smoking e-cigarettes. 

Nobody wants to harm legitimate American businesses. But the interests of corporations, large and small, that gambled on these products cannot trump the health and safety of an entire generation. Kids don’t have well-funded lobbyists or political action committees behind their hashtag campaigns — they just have moms like us. 

If the final policy exempts particular flavors or retailers, it will not stop this epidemic. If menthol flavor is still allowed, for example, e-cigarette makers could easily exploit that loophole and simply rename their mint flavors — the most popular among kids — as a menthol variety. If the pressure campaign works, more and more kids will continue to become addicted.  

And so, together, we urge President Trump and the FDA to stay the course in their fight against addiction. President Trump’s instincts were right and the data is behind him: We face a youth addiction epidemic that is wreaking havoc on the lives of teens and their families.

There have been more than 2,000 lung injuries and 47 deaths related to vaping; the median age of victims is just 24 years. Many of these cases have been linked to vaping THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana, but two-thirds of the patients reportedly did not exclusively use THC products.

The CDC strongly recommends that youths, young adults and anyone else who does not use tobacco should not use e-cigarettes.  

Our children should not be saddled with addiction that will plague them their entire lives. The administration’s choice is clear: Will it protect kids and create a healthier future for Americans? Or will it protect companies that peddle products that are addictive and dangerous to children, in the interest of making a profit?

It’s obvious which side the government should land on. 

Laurie Rubiner is executive vice president at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Katy Talento is an epidemiologist, a former public health policy adviser on President Trump’s Domestic Policy Council and president of KFT Consulting, a health benefits and consulting firm.