By Jenna Sterr
Para-professional with Milwaukee Public Schools
As a Milwaukee Public Schools para-professional working with at-risk high school teenagers, the use of smokeless alternatives to traditional cigarettes, specifically from enticing fruit-flavored disposable e-cigarettes by teens, is of great concern.
In Wisconsin alone, 11% of middle schoolers and 32% of high school students have tried ecigarette products, with an alarming 80% indicating they use “because they come in flavors I like” while indicating they would not smoke an unflavored or natural tobacco flavored product.
What kid, when given the choice between plain tobacco flavor or mango strawberry, wouldn’t choose the latter? It tastes like their breakfast cereal, the candy they had after school, or the ice cream in their freezer – how could something so familiar possibly be bad for you.
The increase in youth vaping led the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to ban flavored ecigarettes during the Trump Presidency. Still, the policy left gaping holes by excluding disposable vape in youth enticing-flavors available in a rainbow of kid-friendly flavors. At many local convenience stores, you’ll find a plethora of small, brightly-colored, easy-to-conceal, and low-cost disposable kid-flavored vape pens targeting teens and even younger children. The days of hiding a pack of cigarettes – which leave the tell-tale smell on your clothes – are in the past.
We need to advocate for the passage of federal legislation like H.R. 901, which would directly address the prevalence of these products in our marketplaces and end their legal and illegal sale. This effort alone would dramatically reduce access for our children.
Additionally, these products are largely produced by unregulated foreign manufacturers. Chinese companies such as Elf Bar and Puff Bar, giants in this kid-flavored e-cigarette market, continue to be found on shelves across the country and contain dangerous carcinogens in pretty packaging.
As for enforcement, we face a losing battle as long as they remain as widely available as they are. Despite a 21 & up age restriction on the purchase of tobacco products, they are still easy for children and teens to purchase or obtain. The FDA may have banned the sale of flavored cartridges for e-cigarettes but has fallen drastically short of resources for enforcement.
Our children are naturally inclined to try new things to seem “cool” in front of their friends. But it is our responsibility as a society to protect them from danger, especially when that danger could come at the cost of their health and potentially their lives. We must close the Trump loophole on flavored disposable electronic cigarette products with urgency to protect our children from predatory foreign companies seeking to line their pockets at the cost of our nation’s future.