If you are confused about the mixed messages coming from the federal government regarding the electronic cigarettes that are so alarmingly popular with teenagers, join the club. This summer, amid an alarming outbreak of lung disease affecting young users, President Trump said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would shortly ban the sale of all flavored electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping devices, until they could be properly reviewed by the FDA.
But as he so often does, Trump changed his mind a few months later, perhaps hoping no one would notice. (They did.) Then, earlier this month the FDA announced that it was back on track to remove flavored vaping cartridges, but not those flavored with menthol, by next month.
Well, OK. But we aren’t holding our breath. And nor should California’s lawmakers. They need to do what the federal government has been unable to do and ban all flavoring in tobacco products sold in the state, including e-cigarettes and hookahs and cigarettes. And they should make the ban permanent.
Honestly, this should have happened last year. A perfectly reasonable ban on flavored tobacco by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) was progressing normally through the legislative process last spring when it was suddenly derailed by unfriendly amendments in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The watered-down version was so toothless that Hill dropped it.
Hill has a new version of the bill this year and its outlook for passage is improved. While the Legislature was dithering on this issue last spring, more teenagers were taking up vaping, primarily attracted by flavors, according to studies. And in the fall, an annual study of tobacco use among teens reported another increase. Menthol is a big favorite among young vapers in both conventional and electronic cigarettes, because it masks the harsh tobacco taste.
There was also an outbreak of a vaping-related lung disease that peaked in the late summer; it has killed 52 people and sickened more than 2,500 people, the majority of whom are teens and young adults. And although the outbreak has tapered off, it’s not over. New cases of people who report using cannabis or tobacco in electronic cigarette devices continue to crop up around the country despite the repeated warnings from health officials not to vape.
Hill also has the support of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said he will sign the bill even while suggesting another anti-vaping measure that’s worth considering: a nicotine tax on electronic cigarettes to make them less accessible to young users. This time, the Legislature should not let the flavor ban go up in smoke.