Does this sound like the beginning of a joke (i.e. “a rabbi and a priest walk into a bar…”)? It’s actually not funny at all, but a sad reality I witnessed myself just a few days ago.
I live in Teaneck, New Jersey. One of our main streets is Cedar Lane and, apparently, much to my personal dismay, a vape shop recently opened up there. This is in addition to a vape shop that recently opened on Queen Anne Road, another main thoroughfare.
While out on an errand last week on Cedar Lane, I noticed a teenage boy (who could not have been older than 16-17 years old) walk past me on the sidewalk. When I came out of the store I had entered, he was browsing in the vape shop. The store employee appeared to be standing at the back counter observing. To the best of my knowledge, the boy left empty-handed and was not illegally sold an e-cigarette or vape product, but I wonder why was he in there in the first place, and why he wasn’t immediately turned away, as he was obviously nowhere near the age of 21 and would not be able to purchase anything.
Youth and E-Cigarettes
We are in the midst of an epidemic when it comes to youth and nicotine use. The 2020 Monitoring the Future Survey (a survey measuring drug and alcohol use among adolescent students nationwide conducted by the University of Michigan annually since 1975) indicates that 16.6% of 8th graders, 30.7% of 10th graders, and 34.5% of 12th graders report vaping nicotine in the past year. We have not yet begun to reverse the alarming increase that saw our youth use more than double from 2017 to 2019.
The CDC determined that 99% of e-cigarettes sold in the United States contain nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco products. Some e-cigarette labels do not disclose that they contain nicotine or are marketed as containing 0% nicotine, even though they do.
Aside from being highly addictive, nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain, which only fully matures at the age of 25, and can permanently harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.
Each time a new memory is created, synapses are built between brain cells. Nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed and also increases the risk for future addiction to other drugs.
Aside from the terrible harm that nicotine causes, the e-cigarette aerosol itself contains harmful substances like ultrafine particles that are inhaled into the lungs, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, and other substances linked to lung disease.
Advertising Lures Youth to Become Consumers for Life
Knowing what we know about cigarettes, is it any surprise that Altria, the tobacco giant that produces Marlboro cigarettes, owns a 35% stake in JUUL? Our youth grew up in an age where the health risks of tobacco were widely known, so they were turned off to tobacco cigarettes for the most part. Big Tobacco was hurting. How would they replace the smokers they were losing?
In early days, JUUL took a page from Big Tobacco’s marketing strategies, marketing to youth to attract and addict young consumers.
Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine published a study in January 2019 that examined JUUL’s marketing campaign from its launch in 2015 to 2018. The study concluded that its social media, ads, and emails were specifically targeted at youth. Images of young people using e-cigarettes, the sleek design of the cartridges (which look like a USB device), and the social media channels were all ways to market to young consumers.
The availability of literally thousands of flavors like Unicorn Milk, Bubblegum, Cotton Candy, Blue Razz, Crème Brulee, marketed by e-cigarette companies only increases the attraction to youth. These products are typically sold in colorful packaging, yet another way to target young consumers.
What is the Law?
As a lawyer by training, I was curious about where our laws currently stand. After looking into it more, I realize that there has been significant movement in making it more difficult for e-cigarette companies to sell their products and market them to our children.
On December 20, 2019, legislation was signed raising the federal minimum age for the sale of tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 years of age. And as of December 31, 2020, 15 states (including New Jersey and New York) passed comprehensive smoke-free indoor laws that include e-cigarettes. These laws prohibit the use of these products in indoor areas of private workplaces, restaurants, and bars.
Also, in December 2020, Congress amended the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (the “PACT Act”) to apply to e-cigarettes and vaping products. Among other things, the PACT Act prohibits the use of the U.S. Postal Service to deliver cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to consumers. The definition of a cigarette includes electronic nicotine delivery systems, which includes all e-cigarette or vaping products, liquids, components, and accessories. This was a big blow to vendors who ship vapes to consumers, a channel commonly used by underage customers to purchase products. There is also legislation and petitions for legislation being signed in a variety of states to ban flavored nicotine products altogether.
But is it Enough?
The FDA has the authority to ban all flavored e-cigarette products and strengthen its policies around this issue. When the FDA reviews applications from makers of e-cigarettes to keep or put products on the market, they should not authorize the sale of any flavored or high-nicotine products. Until the Federal government acts, states and cities can continue their efforts to end the sale of flavored products.
Raising the minimum sale age for tobacco products to 21 has been an important strategy in reducing smoking and other tobacco use, but it needs to be enforced and should be part of a comprehensive strategy along with other strong measures such as higher taxes.
Numerous economic studies have documented that cigarette tax increases reduce both adult and underage smoking. Jurisdictions should consider taxing e-cigarette products to disincentivize use.
Generally speaking, every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces adult smoking by about 2%, reduces the number of kids who smoke by 6-7%, and overall cigarette consumption by approximately 3-5%.
Currently, New Jersey requires vendors of e-cigarette products to obtain a special license to sell e-liquids and imposes a tax on such sales. In addition, New Jersey is one of a few states that has banned the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.
Watching vape stores open up in my neighborhood, enticing kids to walk in the doors (and, possibly, being illegally sold products) saddens and concerns me. Even though they would benefit from the taxes imposed on such businesses, some jurisdictions have prohibited the sale of e-cigarette products altogether. It would be wonderful to see that happen here in Teaneck (and everywhere, frankly).
But, instead, vape shops are popping up everywhere for business, which is just increasing the risk to our youth...
If I had my way, I would want my town to put the health and safety of our kids first and focus on protecting our youth. My message? Ban vape shops and save lives.
[This post is an adapted version of an original post on the Times of Israel Blog. The original post can be found at blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-teenager-walks-into-a-vape-shop ]
Lianne Forman, a 28+ year Teaneck resident and a corporate and employment lawyer by training, is the Executive Director of Communities Confronting Substance Abuse (CCSA), the organization she and her husband, Etiel, founded in 2018. Through their own family’s struggles, they founded CCSA to create greater community awareness and education about substance abuse and addiction in the Jewish community.
For more information on contributing the CCSA blog, please out to Ellie Forman at email@example.com