Yes, e-cigarettes should be regulated equally as other tobacco products
By KATHY DREA
E-cigarette use, also known as “vaping” or “Juuling,” is everywhere these days – in schools, on YouTube, on the streets and dominating the headlines. What most people don’t know is that these are unregulated tobacco products that are not safe, have not been approved by the FDA to help people quit smoking, and are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.
Illinois must take action to implement stronger regulations on e-cigarettes to protect both youth and adults from a lifetime of addiction and illness.
In a December 2018 advisory, the U.S. Surgeon General declared e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic and called it a public health crisis.
While youth e-cigarette use is starting to be discussed in schools, it is much more prevalent than most people think. E-cigarettes are easy for students to get and challenging for teachers and administrators to detect. Every day, schools around the state confiscate dozens of these devices that youth get from older friends, siblings and even their parents. The American Lung Association has been contacted by numerous Illinois school administrators who express their concern about the serious and widespread problem of e-cigarette use.
The number of teens using e-cigarettes has skyrocketed over the last few years. According to the Illinois Youth Survey, e-cigarette use has increased 65 percent in high school sophomores and 46 percent in high school seniors. Nationally, youth e-cigarette use has reached what the Surgeon General has named an epidemic, due to a 78 percent increase from 2017 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
What many teens don’t know is that e-cigarette use is not safe, and is extremely addictive. In fact, one Juul pod is equal to the nicotine in 20 cigarettes, so anyone can become addicted to e-cigarettes very quickly. Big tobacco invests in some e-cigarette companies, such as Juul, who are targeting young people to get them addicted.
The argument that e-cigarettes help people quit smoking or “switch” is false. First, the FDA classifies e-cigarettes as tobacco products and not as quit-smoking aids like certain medications, nicotine patches or nicotine gum. Second, studies show that e-cigarettes are actually a smoking initiation tool. In fact, a Journal of the American Medical Association study reported that teens who use e-cigarettes as their first tobacco product are four times more likely to try combustible cigarettes and three times more likely to become regular smokers of combustible cigarettes.
Additionally, studies have shown that there is no safe level of nicotine exposure. Nicotine alters adolescent brain development, and primes the brain for other addictions, including to cocaine and methamphetamine.
For adults, reputable studies have not proven that e-cigarettes are an effective method to quit smoking. In fact, more than half of all adult e-cigarette users continue to use combustible cigarettes. Switching to e-cigarettes does not mean quitting. Quitting means ending use of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and breaking the addiction to nicotine, which can be very difficult.
Because there has been no FDA review of e-cigarette products on the market, we have no idea what ingredients are in them or how the devices are made. There are no labeling requirements, so we don’t know what toxins are in e-cigarettes. In January 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies. That report made clear: using e-cigarettes causes health risks, increases the chance that children and youth will start to smoke, and exposes others to dangerous secondhand e-cigarette emissions.
Since e-cigarettes are new and unregulated by the FDA, we don’t know the health consequences of long-term use yet.
Fortunately, health advocates have decades of experience in implementing proven tobacco control regulations that resulted in historically low smoking rates in Illinois. The Smoke Free Illinois Act, which passed 12 years ago, is a perfect example of how tobacco control regulations work. Since the Smoke Free Illinois Law passed, hospitalizations from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart attacks have fallen by 20.5 percent, which has saved Illinois more than $1 billion in healthcare costs.
Tobacco 21, a law that increases the purchasing age of tobacco products to 21 in Illinois, went into effect on July 1. It’s too soon to see results from the statewide law; however, we are seeing results from the first cities that passed a similar ordinance. After Tobacco 21 passed in Evanston, high schoolers use of all tobacco products decreased 37.5 percent.
The state also passed new tobacco taxes, which includes a statewide cigarette tax increase of $1 per pack and adds a 15 percent wholesale tax on e-cigarettes. Increasing the price of tobacco products is the number one factor that deters people from ever starting to use and encourages people to quit.
The Lung Association recommends that Illinois lawmakers implement the following regulations as the next steps in our fight against the e-cigarette public health crisis:
- Include e-cigarettes in the Smoke Free Illinois Law, so that e-cigarette use restrictions are consistent with the indoor smoking law. This will also reduce e-cigarettes exposure around youth and protect citizens from secondhand e-cigarette emissions.
- Restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products.
- Increase youth and parent education about e-cigarettes by fully funding state tobacco prevention and education programs at levels recommended by CDC.
Illinois must strengthen statewide regulations to protect our citizens and especially our youth from deadly and addictive tobacco products.
Kathy Drea is the senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association. She has 20 years of Illinois tobacco control policy experience. She wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.
This column originally appeared in our August print edition. See the full edition under the Current Issue tab on our website, ibjonline.com