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The Journal Gazette

  • In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo Marshfield High School Principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students in such places as restrooms or hallways at the school in Marshfield, Mass. Health and education officials across the country are raising alarms over wide underage use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products. The devices heat liquid into an inhalable vapor that's sold in sugary flavors like mango and mint, and often with the addictive drug nicotine. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Friday, September 14, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

A taste for vaping

Flavors are big draw to entice, hook teens

Electronic cigarette use

The 2017 Indiana Youth Survey found increasing rates of electronic vapor product use among northeast Indiana high school students

7th grade...........................................5.6 percent

8th grade...........................................8.5 percent

9th grade.........................................10.9 percent

10th grade..........................................12 percent

11th grade.......................................13.8 percent

12th grade.......................................13.9 percent

Nancy Cripe is glad the Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on manufacturers of electronic cigarette products, but she doesn't hold out much hope the companies will stop targeting teenagers in their marketing efforts.

“How is the industry going to wiggle out of this? – that's what I'm thinking,” said the executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County. 

The FDA announced Wednesday it will give Juul Labs and other manufacturers 60 days to prove they can keep their e-cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers. The federal agency also warned retailers of stepped-up enforcement of the ban on the sale of vaping devices to anyone younger than 18, and issued 131 fines for violations.

But Cripe said the crackdown on manufacturers will be difficult to enforce.

“If you look at the Juul website, they sound like they are doing everything they can to discourage teen use. They sound very genuine, but their product is designed to look like a USB drive. They can be easily concealed – they can be charged in a laptop. And the flavors – there's mango and mint, creme brulee and cool cucumber. If they don't want kids to use them, why don't they just sell them as tobacco-flavored?”

If the FDA truly wanted to target teen use, it would have required the manufacturers to stop producing flavored vapors, because that's the attraction for teenagers, Cripe said. And while the nearly $50 cost for an e-cigarette starter pack might look intimidating to young buyers, the product is heavily discounted, with ample coupon offers and first-time buyer incentives.

There's plenty of evidence high school students are attracted to them. The Indiana Youth Survey, conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, found nearly a quarter of Indiana high school seniors said they used e-cigarettes in 2015, higher than the 17.1 percent national rate for12th graders. Since then, the percentage of Indiana high school seniors using e-cigarettes has declined to 19.7 percent.

While that's encouraging, the survey authors acknowledge, “it is important to note that – despite declines in overall prevalence – e-cigarettes remain the primary form of nicotine consumption for Indiana youth.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that “juuling,” as it is known by teens, is highly addictive, and its popularity is booming. CNBC reported in July that Juul's sales increased 882 percent in a single four-week period earlier this year, with its share of the e-cigarette market topping 70 percent. 

“The concentration of nicotine in Juul is more than double the concentration found in other e-cigarettes,” according to the academy. “This high concentration is a serious concern for youth, who are already uniquely susceptible to nicotine addiction. The addictive potential is so high that the U.S. surgeon general has declared that youth use of nicotine in any form is unsafe.”

Some research has shown teens believe they are inhaling only water vapor, not nicotine, when they use Juul and other devices. Teachers report students are using the devices in classrooms, hallways andrestrooms. They share them with classmates.

Teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes, according to federal studies. 

In Indiana, where the prevalence of adult smoking already exceeds the national average, we can't afford to support another generation of smokers and their related health costs.

The FDA crackdown is good news, but Tobacco Free Allen County's call for an end to flavored e-cigarettes seems like an even better course.