Parents of teenagers live for the moment when their kids open up to them. So in April 2018, when my then-ninth-grader, Caleb, said, “Mom, Dad — I want to talk to you,” my husband and I were all ears.
What we heard was alarming.
Caleb had witnessed a “confusing” presentation about electronic cigarettes, given at school that day by a representative from the popular brand Juul. This supposed educator told the class that Juul was intended solely for adult use. Yet in the next breath, he said Juul was "totally safe," and that the Food and Drug Administration would be approving it any day — both complete falsehoods. I’ve told this story before Congress twice, most recently at a hearing on Wednesday.
Mint and menthol spared from cuts
On Thursday, Juul’s duplicity caught my attention yet again, when the company grandly announced that it will no longer sell fruity or dessert-flavored e-cigarettes. In fact what is most significant is what Juul didn’t do: It will not stop selling mint and menthol flavors, the favored choice of two out of every three high school students who vape. Juul’s cynical “news” changes nothing.
President Donald Trump — parent and policymaker — one month ago announced that the Food and Drug Administration will soon remove all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. Nothing short of that will be acceptable, and we should all be prepared for more optics and deception from the industry that brought us cigarettes.
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The fact is, Juul and other e-cigarettes are addicting kids across the country and turning their lives upside down. Nearly 5 million middle and high schoolers in the United States now vape. There are cases of straight-A students failing classes. Athletes are getting so winded they can’t breathe. Formerly even-keeled kids are exploding in anger. Teens are spending weeks in rehab for nicotine addiction or reporting symptoms of withdrawal.
When will we protect our kids?
We’re in a race against time to prevent our children from becoming the next generation of nicotine addicts and from being treated as human guinea pigs in the Juul experiment.
Preliminary results from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, released last month, show how quickly the problem is worsening:
►E-cigarette use among high school students reached 27.5% this year, an increase of 135% in the past two years.
►The number of middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes jumped by nearly 3 million in just two years.
►The percentage of high school e-cigarette users who reported using mint and menthol flavors increased from 42.3% in 2017 to 63.9% this year.
It’s no coincidence that e-cigarette use has jumped dramatically in just a few years. Juul and other companies have aggressively and cynically marketed sleek, thumb-drive-like products and flavors — such as mango, mint and menthol — that appeal to kids while enabling them to camouflage their vaping habits and hide them from the adults in their lives.
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The research is clear: Most regular youth e-cigarette users report using flavored products and say flavors are a major reason for their use. And with mint and menthol growing in popularity, the administration must reject industry efforts to exempt these flavors from its plan. If mint and menthol flavors remain on the market, even more kids will gravitate to them, and we will not get this epidemic under control.
Parents and children should know that e-cigarettes are dangerous for young people. Each Juul pod delivers roughly as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and nicotine is harmful for adolescents’ developing brains. It’s also incredibly addictive. And the growing number of serious lung injuries and deaths related to e-cigarette use has added to the urgency of acting now.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, framed the problem this way at a congressional hearing last month: “The epidemic is moving faster than our data-gathering processes, and we are really losing people in the meantime.”
This is why the FDA should finalize the policy to remove flavors and protect kids as soon as possible. With each day that passes, more children will become addicted and more will be exposed to health dangers we still know too little about.
Meredith Berkman is a co-founder of Parents Against Vaping e-Cigarettes, or PAVe.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Juul flavor announcement: E-cig company keeps popular mint, menthol