Our view: Years lost in the fight vs. smoking

Herald pull quote, 12/15/19

A single e-cigarette pack made by the company Juul has as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet two-thirds of Juul users aged 15-24 do not know that Juul products contain nicotine, the CDC reports.

There’s more: According to a report by Yale Medicine, more than 5 million American middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes. That’s about 1.4 million more than last year. Another national survey showed 27% of high school students have vaped recently.

Millions of kids are using e-cigarettes and many of them, according to the CDC, don’t fully grasp the consequences of doing so.

It’s good, then, that states and cities are taking action to help slow this national epidemic. Last week, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs, alleging the company is illegally marketing its products to children and violating various consumer laws. Ellison, via the lawsuit, believes Juul is a public health nuisance.

Juul says its products are an alternative to traditional cigarettes, although Ellison said he is ready to counter that claim. The company has taken heat for what many consider an attempt to hook children on products that are flavored like mint, fruit, candy and desserts.


Also behind the push is Gov. Tim Walz, quoted by Minnesota Public Radio as saying “this is a situation that is going to require us on all fronts to push back.”

In North Dakota, Devils Lake this month became the state’s first city to ban the sale of vaping products to customers younger than 21. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, with penalties ranging from $50 for buyers to $500 for sellers.

These unrelated efforts – the lawsuit in Minnesota and the new law in Devils Lake – are good efforts in what has become a fierce battle for the good health of America’s youth. The forces of good were winning not long ago, but lost ground in recent years due to the rise of e-cigarettes.

For example, the smoking rate among young adults – those aged 18 to 24 – had dropped to an all-time low of 10.4% in 2017. That was down considerably from the 18.9% rate in 2011. The rate among youngsters – those younger than 18 – had fallen to 5.4%, also a historic low. The Truth Initiative – an organization pledged to “inspiring tobacco-free lives” – credited well-funded and well-executed public education campaigns for the decreases.

And then along comes the e-cigarette industry with vapid liquids flavored like watermelon and strawberry milk.

This was the generation that held so much promise to finally stamp out smoking, and now that opportunity is gone. It will take untold additional dollars – to be spent on anti-smoking campaigns and potential lawsuits – to take back the ground that was lost to the tobacco industry in recent years. Because of this rise in e-cigarettes, we’ll have to focus on the next generation.

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