Children's Health

Sen. Feinstein: Congress Must Address The Youth Vaping Crisis

It’s time to curb the rise in youth nicotine addiction.
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Even before COVID-19 ravaged our country, e-cigarettes posed a serious health threat to America’s youth. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the youth vaping crisis remains an urgency that Congress must address. 

Not only have changes in shopping habits during the pandemic made e-cigarettes easier for underage users to obtain, research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that young people who vape are five to seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than those who don’t. 

Vaping leaves young people more susceptible to deadly illness, especially if they haven’t yet received a COVID-19 vaccine. And with one in five high school students reportedly using e-cigarettes, the time to act is now. 

Youth e-cigarette use alarmingly high

Youth e-cigarette use is rampant, and with it comes a higher risk of permanent lung damage or even death. 

The CDC reports that more than 3 million high school students and 550,000 middle school students used e-cigarettes in 2020. More than a third of high school students who use e-cigarettes report using them most days of the month, and 20 percent report daily use. 

In addition to the harmful effects of nicotine on a developing brain, it can also increase stress and anxiety when an addiction is formed. This is especially alarming as we emerge from a pandemic that created severe disruptions in students’ lives and a massive influx in reported mental health issues among adolescents. 

Access to vaping products

COVID-19 has changed the way Americans shop, and the purchase of e-cigarettes is no exception. The pandemic made it easier for underage users to acquire vaping devices by ordering them online and having them delivered, when age checks occurred less frequently. 

According to a national survey published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, online purchasing became the predominant source of purchasing e-cigarettes after the pandemic began. Underage youth found it easier to obtain e-cigarettes through online purchasing and from sellers providing home delivery during the pandemic, highlighting the urgent need to effectively verify age for online sales and for in-person delivery.

A bill I wrote with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act, became law last year and should help reduce this problem. This law mandates that e-cigarettes receive the same strong safeguards already in place for traditional cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. 

These safeguards include mandatory age verification by online e-cigarette sellers before shipment, properly labeled packages showing they contain e-cigarettes and a second round of age verification upon delivery, including an adult’s signature. 

While many provisions of that law took effect on March 27, the U.S. Postal Service was required to put in place new mail regulations by April 26. As of mid-June, that has yet to happen, leading Sen. Cornyn and me to call on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to publish these new regulations as soon as possible.

Still, more needs to be done, especially given the fact that many young people are already addicted to nicotine and will find new ways to get their hands on e-cigarettes. 

The root of the problem is the attraction these devices have for children in the first place, and that’s where we have to attack the problem.

Flavored vaping products

As was true of traditional cigarettes, flavored products are the gateway for many underage users and a primary reason youth report using e-cigarettes. Of the 3.6 million young Americans who used e-cigarettes in 2020, 85 percent of high school students and 74 percent of middle school students reported using flavored e-cigarettes

It’s not hard to see why children are attracted to these products when flavors like cotton candy, melon and raspberry are offered as options. While most flavors in pre-filled cartridges are banned, disposable e-cigarettes are still sold in a variety of flavors that attract children. Menthol-flavored e-cigarette products also remain on the market, which 37 percent of high school e-cigarette users use

It’s clear that many of these flavored products are being marketed toward young, first-time users. Our efforts to stop the youth vaping epidemic must confront these marketing efforts head-on.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) signed into law a statewide ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including those found in e-cigarettes, that is set to take effect next year. Many states, however, lack such a ban. That’s why Congress should act as soon as possible to mandate a nationwide ban on flavored vaping products. 

While we’ve taken a big step forward by requiring online age verification of these products, we need to attack the root of the crisis by outlawing predatory flavors that lure children into vaping. Only then will we be able to curb the rise in youth nicotine addiction. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) serves on the Intelligence, Appropriations, Judiciary, and Rules and Administration committees in the U.S. Senate.

5 Comments

  1. JAMES L CUEVAS Reply

    Sen. Feinstein:
    If as you say flavored products are a gateway toward abuse by children, when will your fight to end flavored liquor be introduced?
    Surely there is no need for cotton candy flavored vodka, or tropical flavored Malibu Rum. As these provide a absolute threat to those that consume them could you give us a timeline when you will address this issue. Thank you.

    • Denise Seremeta Reply

      As a 20+ year cigarette smoker who was NEVER able to quit using the various traditional means, both my fiance & I can FINALLY say, we are both ex-smokers, (for 1 & 4 yrs now) but most importantly, our health has greatly improved! However, along with my fiancé & I, there are millions of adults across the U S. who are literally petrified about losing access to vaping & the eliquid flavors, because they were absolutely vital to our success!!!

      Members of Congress that continue to twist the facts, speak half truths, & worse yet, ignore the ever increasing research about vaping, because of their personal feelings &/or beliefs is not ok and it NEEDS to stop – because this technology IS saving countless lives, which, we EMBRACE in every other aspect of our lives!!! We would NEVER ban cars or youth from driving because some youth have made the gross mistake of drinking, then have gotten behind the wheel!!?? EVERYONE cares about our youth, BUT it’s NOT OK to simply DISREGARD the science.. the health benefits.. & the millions of adults, who successfully use and benefit from these harm reduction products!! The laws that Congress has/is enacting, will serve NO ONE- EXCEPT, another new & very dangerous black market resulting in many more deaths of both adults & kids!!!! THESE HARM REDUCTION PRODUCTS WORK, SO, THEY AREN’T GOING AWAY, WHETHER THEY ARE LEGAL OR NOT!!! IF CONGRESS CONTINUES TO PUSH THE SAME PROHIBITION TACTICS, WHICH HISTORY HAS SHOWN IS AN UTTER FAILURE WITH BOTH, ALCOHOL & WITH DRUGS, IT WILL BE DISASTROUS- FOR EVERONE INVOLVED. IT IS NOT OK FOR CONGRESS TO IGNORE THE BENEFITS OF THESE HARM REDUCTION PRODUCTS WHILE CONTINUING TO DISREGARD & SKEW THE FACTS & THE RESEARCH BECAUSE YOU MAY NOT LIKE IT FOR YOURSELF..OR YOUR CHILDREN!!!
      IT IS WAY PAST DUE THAT CONGRESS ACCEPT THE RESEARCH & MANY BENEFITS THIS TECHNOLOGY OFFERS..
      THERE ARE ALREADY NUMEROUS SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE ALONG WITH MULTIPLE EXSTRAINEOUS REQUIREMENTS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES, BUT IF YOU ARE STILL SO CONCERNED WITH YOUTH VAPING, THERE ARE SEVERAL EFFECTIVE, COMMON SENSE OPTIONS CONGRESS CAN TAKE, BUT BANNING THIS LIFE SAVING TECHNOLOGY & SIMPLY DISREGARDING THE MILLIONS OF ADULTS WHO ARE BENEFITTING & MUCH HEALTHIER BECAUSE OF IT..IS DESPICABLE ON THE PART OF CONGRESS – COMPLETELY DISREGARDING THE HEALTH OF *MILLIONS* OF INDIVIDUALS IN ONE GROUP IN ORDER TO PROTECT ANOTHER …IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE COURSE OF ACTION.. YOUR JOB IS TO PROTECT US ALL!!!

      On behalf of the entire vaping community
      & the millions of adults & ex-smokers who have found success with these products, THANK YOU for your comment to Senator Feinstein and ALL those who refuse to acknowledge the benefits of this successful technology…

  2. Chris Ravin Reply

    So much to correct here:

    All.the lung injuries (EVALI)had nothing to do with ecigs. That was illicit THC products. To say otherwise is a lie.

    Vaping upping the chance of Covid is also a lie. Unless the Mayo clinic is to be ignored in favor of a severely flawed analysis that should have never been published. Lie#2

    CDC data clearly shows kids DO NOT get these device from the internet. Lie#3

    The numbers quoted as “used” is one puff in a month. A beyond useless metric. Daily use is less than 1% lie#4. Not to mention a 30% drop BEFORE covid.

    Nicotine doesn’t harm the human teen brain. This particular lie (#5) is based upon RAT studies with SMOKE exposure.

    Flavors do not drive use. This is a pathetic assumption because all these products happened to be flavored. Cigarettes taste like crap yet generations of kids tried them.

    This journal should be ashamed to print this kind of wholly inappropriate hysteria and moral panic stoking garbage.

  3. Robb Cabansag Reply

    Sen. Feinstein,

    It troubles me that you claim studies show youth are more likely to contract COVID, yet failed to mention that Mayo Clinic just released a study demonstrating there is no correlation between vaping and COVID-19. In fact e-cigarette users have a slightly reduced chance of being diagnosed (OR 0.93).

    While you may fear for the 3.6 million young people that have tried an e-cigarette once in the past 30 days, you seem to have zero concern for the 8.1 million adults the CDC estimates use e-cigarettes daily. Like youth, vape shop sales data, as well as a recent Penn State University study published in the Journal “Annals of the American Thoracic Society” show 85% of adults use flavored e-cigarettes.

    But unlike teens experimenting, 96% of adults are former/current smoker using them to “kick the habit”.

    The PSU study also found 10% of the participants would return to smoking if their preferred flavor was taken off the market, and 50% would procure them illegally.

    Are you really ready to have 700,000 adults return to smoking, knowing 2/3 of of them will die from smoking related illness?

    Are you willing to create 3.5 million “criminals” in the process, and fuel an explosion in the illicit sales of black market flavors?

    Before I close, let’s dig in to the study you linked to as to understand the actual youth impact.

    19.6% of high school students tried an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.
    39% of that group uses more than 20 days/month (the group we need to worry about). That’s just 7% of the total.
    22% of students cited flavors as their reason for vaping (we’re down to only 1.5%)

    One point five percent, and two-thirds of them were already using tobacco cigarettes.

    Nobody wants young people smoking, vaping, drinking or taking drugs, but to put the lives of millions of adults on the line for a teen “epidemic” that really isn’t is just wrong.

    Enforce the laws on books, don’t make new prohibitions.

    Sincerely,
    Robert Cabansag

  4. Matthew Robertson Reply

    Why are cigars lumped in here? If the goal is to keep this from kids, kids are not smoking $5 or $10 cigars.

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