The Trump administration took a definitive step last week toward curbing youth vaping, calling for a ban on the manufacture and sale of most flavored e-cigarette cartridges, which health advocates claim entice teenagers into consuming dangerous levels of nicotine.
Starting in February e-cigarette cartridges in all flavors, except menthol and tobacco, will be illegal. Also exempt are brands of flavored nicotine made for open tank systems.
While the move is being decried by those in the industry who purvey the handheld, USB rechargeable cartridges made by Juul, Suorin Air and Puff Bar, locals who advocate for tobacco-free schools say it’s a step in the right direction.
“My thought is, it’s a good start,” La Cañada High School security head Tanya Wilson said of the federal ban. “It’s great that there so much awareness now and they recognize it’s such a huge problem.”
Wilson leads the effort at LCHS to find and confiscate the devices. She says while e-cigarette use is down from recent years, the devices still attract young people with flavors like crème brûlée and juicy fruit.
“Mango is the biggest one, not menthol,” she said, adding that she’s not once caught a student with a tobacco-flavored e-cigarette. “Popular flavors are watermelon, lychee ice — they’re all fruit-forward and marketed to kids.”
Those who work at shops that sell vaping products, however, claim adult consumers are just as partial to flavors as young people are, and that the devices really do help of-age cigarette smokers kick the habit.
Andrew Galbraith works at Crystal Vapor, a La Cañada shop that sells mostly refillable tank systems and liquid nicotine, exempt from the federal ban, but also some cartridge products.
While the average age of the store’s customer base is around 35, the most sought-out flavors are watermelon, red apple, passion fruit and guava.
“Tobacco [flavor,] if you looked at it, would be right at the bottom. Straight menthol would also be right at the bottom,” Galbraith said. “The whole argument that adults don’t like flavored e-liquid is completely wrong.”
In the past seven years, Crystal Vapor has navigated an ever-changing regulatory landscape, adjusting the age limit from 18 to 21 in accordance with California law in 2016 and employing multiple methods of keeping kids out.
Of more concern to Galbraith are proposals like California’s Senate Bill 793. Introduced Monday by multiple lawmakers, the measure would ban store sales of all flavored tobacco products — including tank systems, menthol e-cigarette cartridges and traditional menthol cigarettes.
“If they did that statewide, I’d say 95% of the shops would close — our shop wouldn’t be able to survive,” he said.
If you get rid of flavored e-cigarettes of any sort, he added, adult users will likely return to cigarettes.
Will Moffitt believes serious steps must be taken to stem the tide of teen vaping and nicotine addiction among young people.
As the chair of La Cañada’s Community Prevention Council, an advocacy and family resource group that aims to combat the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs among youth, Moffitt has learned a lot about vaping by talking to and surveying teens.
While use at local schools is down, thanks to increased enforcement, kids are still using the devices outside of school. Some purchase them online without their parents’ knowledge and are exposed to dangerously high levels of nicotine masked by alluring flavors.
“It’s the new cigarette — on steroids,” he said. “Kids, who are very susceptible to becoming addicted to nicotine, they’re getting as they’re puffing on a pod as much as one pack of cigarettes.”
Moffitt said locally the push against teen vaping is gaining traction as more kids learn the seriousness of the health risks. A bigger battle, he said, is bringing parents up to speed.
“The more informed parents can be, the better. Because this is a health issue,” he added.
Wilson agrees education is key. She plans to start holding discussions for LCHS students about the risks of e-cigarettes. The regulations coming down, however, will help.
“This is the perfect time to hit it from all angles,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot.”