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Back to school shouldn’t be back to Juul


(Paolo_Toffanin/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When students from all over New York City return to school this week, their backpacks will be full of notebooks, rulers and markers. And tens of thousands of kids will be carrying something else: an e-cigarette. We need to do everything in our power to combat this challenge, which is threatening decades of gains in tobacco control.

E-cigarette use, or vaping, has reached epidemic levels among young people in New York, growing from just 7% in 2014 to 27% in 2018. Products from Juul and other companies are now ubiquitous not just in our high schools but even in middle schools. Students as young as 11 have even told me they avoid bathrooms in their schools because they are full of kids puffing away. In some schools, bathrooms are now called Juulrooms. Scary.

That‘s why I am sponsoring, together with 21 of my colleagues in the City Council, a bill that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in New York City. There is no single step we could take that would do more to protect young people from the dangers of this addiction.

E-cigarettes contain concentrated doses of nicotine, a dangerous substance that can lock users in a lifetime of addiction. A single Juul pod delivers as much nicotine as a full pack of 20 cigarettes. Nicotine use by teenagers has been shown to have long-term effects on cognitive development, possibly leading to high levels of impulsivity and mood disorders. Young people who use e-cigarettes are also more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes in the future.

And this summer has brought frightening news of nearly 200 hospitalizations of teenagers and young adults with lung disease. The exact cause of this outbreak is unknown, but the patients all have one thing in common: use of vaping products.

How did this happen? For years e-cigarette companies followed the well-worn playbook of Big Tobacco, marketing their products as glamorous lifestyle choices. According to a recent study from Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, during the first six months on the market, JUUL advertisements blatantly targeted young people, beefing up their social media presence and hiring good-looking influencers to talk up the product.

And companies like Juul have sold — and continue to sell — vaping products in an array of enticing flavors like chocolate mint, mango, cherry crush and watermelon twist. These candy-like flavors are clearly designed to appeal to young people.

It worked. A 2018 survey of 14,379 teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 34 years showed that teens ages 15-17 years were 16 times more likely to be current JUUL users than than the 25-34 year age group.

Now there are over 15,000 flavors of e-cigarettes on the market today. They are hooking new kids constantly.

Adults wishing to vape as a way to quit traditional cigarettes would still have that option. Our bill would allow the sale of e-cigarette devices and tobacco-flavored liquids to people aged 21 and older.

But getting all the candy and sweet flavored e-cigarettes off the shelves, and out of kids’ backpacks, would remove the biggest lure that is trapping a new generation in nicotine addiction. We have an obligation to act decisively.

Levine represents parts of northern Manhattan in the City Council.