Editorial: State should act to limit teens’ e-cigarette use

Editorial: State should act to limit teens’ e-cigarette use

Lawmakers should raise the smoking age to 21 and tax vaping products the same as all tobbacco.

By The Herald Editorial Board

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s most recent moves against e-cigarette use by teenagers don’t go as far as some had hoped. Still it’s encouraging to see a government agency move with greater-than-typical speed to address a crisis, as the FDA did last year following the explosion in the use of electronic cigarettes by youths, which the FDA’s commissioner declared an “epidemic” in September.

Earlier last year, the FDA announced an investigation of the marketing of e-cigarettes, also referred to as vape pens, by Juul and other makers of the devices and the nicotine-laden liquids and salts they use, in particular the fruit and candy flavors that appeal to young smokers.

By September, noting the rapid increase in use of e-cigarettes by middle and high school students — despite the fact that in most states their use is barred to those under 18 — the FDA announced it was accelerating its enforcement and ordered Juul and other makers to prove they could keep their e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors and warned and cited retailers for selling vaping products to teens.

A month later, the FDA stopped short of the all-out ban on flavored products it had threatened, but moved to restrict retailers to selling vape products only in closed-off areas inaccessible to teens. Health experts and even some in Congress had hoped to see the FDA ban the use of flavors outright, but agency lawyers said such a ban would have required a complicated rule-making process and likely would have meant a long court fight, The New York Times reported.

The makers, in response to the FDA’s earlier threats, have moved to restrict the use of their products among minors. Juul, for example, announced it had suspended the store sales of its fruit- and candy-flavored pods, shut down some of its social media accounts and said it would toughen its requirements for online verification of age.

That response — and more — is warranted.

The FDA estimates that about 3.6 million people under the age of 18 are using e-cigarettes, a number than increased by 1.3 million between 2017 and 2018 alone. A survey of 13,850 students nationwide found that e-cigarette use jumped to 20.9 percent in 2018 from 11 percent in 2017 among 12th graders; to 16.1 percent from 8.2 percent among 10th graders and to 6.1 percent from 3.5 percent among eighth graders.

While e-cigarettes commonly are used by adults who want to transition from traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products, they also are attracting teens and introducing them to nicotine dependence and addiction. About 95 percent of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 21.

Recent actions by the FDA and e-cigarette makers are appropriate, but not sufficient on their own to slow and begin to reverse the frightening increase in teen vaping, especially for a product whose health effects are only now beginning to be studied.

Prior to the start of the Legislature’s regular session on Jan. 14, legislation was filed in the House and Senate that would raise the legal age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21. As written, the legislation would not affect sales on military bases, nor does it include penalties for possession by those younger than 21.

Already, California, Oregon, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey, along with more than 350 cities and counties have raised the tobacco sales age to 21.

Some will criticize this as another right lost for adults between the ages of 18 and 21, but it’s a limitation that exists in all states for alcohol. Tobacco should be no different. And it’s necessary to decrease the likelihood that minors will be able to purchase tobacco products. Those who are in their mid-teens, 15 to 17, will be less able to pass for tobacco’s legal age. Such a restriction should also limit youths’ exposure to vaping products on school campuses.

Along with increasing the tobacco age limit, the Legislature also should bring back earlier legislation that would tax vaping products the same as all other tobacco products. Bills imposing an excise tax have previously sought to use the revenue from such taxes to fund tobacco prevention and education programs, enforce tobacco regulations and provide funding to other health services. Currently, the state ranks 43rd in terms of state spending on tobacco prevention. The $1.5 million allocated by the state for those efforts in 2019 represents only 2.4 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for a state of Washington’s population.

That’s an abysmal rank for a state whose attorney general at the time — later Gov. Chris Gregoire — was key in the $206 billion national settlement with Big Tobacco in 1997.

Prior to the recent leap in e-cigarette use by youths nationwide, there were signs that vaping — like that of traditional tobacco products — was declining among teens in this state. The Washington Healthy Youth Survey in 2016 found that e-cigarette use among 10th graders had dropped to 13 percent from 18 percent two years before. The results of the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey have not been released, but there’s every reason to believe that the new numbers for Washington state will mirror the national trend in e-cigarette use.

Along with efforts by the FDA and the makers of e-cigarettes, an increase in the state’s tobacco sales age and a tax on vaping products are needed to further limit their use by teens.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Thursday, May 30

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - A worker cleans a jet bridge at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., before passengers board an Alaska Airlines flight, March 4, 2019. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines owns Horizon Air. Three passengers sued Alaska Airlines on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, saying they suffered emotional distress from an incident last month in which an off-duty pilot, was accused of trying to shut down the engines of a flight from Washington state to San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: FAA bill set to improve flight safety, experience

With FAA reauthorization, Congress proves it’s capable of legislating and not just throwing shade.

Judge’s decision to reduce bail in trooper’s death questioned

Judge Richard Okrent’s decision to reduce Raul Benitez Santana’s bail from $1… Continue reading

Herald reporters deserve living wage that guild seeks

As a frequent reader of The Herald’s online content, I express my… Continue reading

Letter supporting Trump ignores facts around him

Judging by a recent letter regarding the writer’s reasons for voting for… Continue reading

Stephens: Do we no longer understand how wars are won?

The Biden administration wants Ukraine and Israel to fight their wars the way we’ve lost ours for 50 years.

Krugman: Why we know the inflation ‘truthers’ have got it wrong

There are just too many sources of data that show that reports about the easing of inflation are correct.

The vessel Tonga Chief, a 10-year-old Singaporean container ship, is moored at the Port of Everett Seaport in November, 2023, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)
Editorial: Leave port tax issue for campaign, not the ballot

Including “taxing district” on ballot issue to expand the Port of Everett’s boundaries is prejudicial.

Snohomish County Councilmembers Nate Nehring, left, and Jared Mead, speaking, take turns moderating a panel including Tulip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin, Stanwood Mayor Sid Roberts and Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell during the Building Bridges Summit on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Western Washington University Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Candidates, voters have campaign promises to make

Two county officials’ efforts to improve political discourse skills are expanding to youths and adults.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. ( Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)
Editorial: Recruiting two Bob Fergusons isn’t election integrity

A GOP activist paid the filing fee for two gubernatorial candidates who share the attorney general’s name.

Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, May 29

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

College financial aid is investment in future for all

I wish to highlight the pressing issue of the soaring costs associated… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.