There is an epidemic spreading among our children. What is it? Vaping.

Everyone knows and evidence has proven that smoking is bad and unhealthy. Fortunately, that message has helped reduce tobacco use among American teens for decades. Disturbingly, this trend is being drastically reversed before our eyes because of vaping — especially flavored vapor products. In order to stop this sudden increase in teen tobacco use, I have introduced H.B. 1994 to ban the sale and purchase of the flavored vapor products responsible for getting children hooked in Pennsylvania. 

Many people don’t think of vape pens and e-cigarette cartridges as tobacco products, but they are. The nicotine in these products was originally extracted from tobacco leaves, as was all nicotine, which means that they are legally a tobacco product and by law are regulated by the FDA. Whether it is vaped or smoked in a cigarette, this nicotine is extremely addictive, especially to the still-developing brains of young people.

In 2014, for the first time, more teenagers used e-cigarettes or vaped nicotine than smoked cigarettes. Since then, as cigarette use declines, teen e-cigarette usage is growing — and much faster. Suddenly, it skyrocketed in 2018 with nearly 1 in 5 high schoolers and 1 in 20 middle schoolers using an e-cigarette in the past month, leading the FDA to publicly identify the drastic shift as an “epidemic.” 

This problem is not going to go away on its own. Just this month, the same National Youth Tobacco Survey found that today more than 1 in 4 high-schoolers and more than 1 in 10 middle-schoolers have vaped in the past month. This alarming surge in youth tobacco use must be addressed immediately. 

So how do we address it? While we certainly need better education on the risks of vaping, flavored vapor products are playing a significant role in making these products appealing to children. Flavors such as bubble gum, Captain Crunch, and cotton candy quite obviously pander to younger children, with a 2015 study finding that 81.5% of youthS who had used e-cigarettes in the past month cited they had used them because “they come in flavors I like.” Most recently, the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey estimates that 72.2 percent of high-schoolers used flavored e-cigarettes exclusively. 

Clearly, the flavors are having an impact in getting kids hooked on vaping — and increasing the likelihood of trying out cigarettes.

More and more evidence indicates that vaping serves as a gateway to future cigarette use and early studies tell us that adolescent e-cigarette users are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes than those who don’t use e-cigarettes. Keep in mind, these are kids who have never smoked a cigarette a day in their life, that is before they started vaping.

We know the risk of youth vaping, we know flavors are increasing youth vaping, and we know it’s only getting worse. It is time to act. Pennsylvania must pass H.B. 1994 as soon as possible, removing these dangerously appealing flavored tobacco products from store shelves and the hands of children who might not otherwise develop an addiction to nicotine. I will continue to advocate for this bill until it becomes law. 

State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski represents the 121st Legislative District.

 

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