Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody made the right move last week in deciding to investigate the marketing and selling practices of the more than 20 e-cigarette companies that sell products to Floridians. The dangers of vaping are clear: Florida has reported 70 cases of lung illness tied to vaping so far this year. Nationally, 34 people have died. The state should ensure that advertising is not deceptive and is crystal clear about the serious health risks.
It’s the right time for an investigation into e-cigarette companies in Florida, because the state’s regulatory system is not sufficient and the number of people falling ill from vaping is only increasing. In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the number of cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarette use at 380. About a month later, that number has more than quadrupled to 1,604 cases. Since 2014, it has been illegal in Florida for those under 18 years of age to possess nicotine-dispensing devices, and it has been illegal to sell the devices to minors. Yet that fact has stopped no one, it seems. From 2017 to 2018, there was an almost 60 percent increase in the use of e-cigarettes among Florida high schoolers. The situation is getting worse, not better.
Vaping has become so prevalent that local governments are starting to step in. Last month, the Hillsborough County Commission began talks to pass an ordinance that would up the county’s age of purchase for vaping products from 18 to 21. Similar legislation is being proposed again in Tallahassee by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, although efforts to raise the legal age of purchase have failed in the past. If Hillsborough decides to approve this restriction, they would become the first local government in Florida to do so. But public comment at the commission meeting showed that there remain critics of further regulating vaping. Some speakers noted the CDC has linked most of the lung illness to vapes containing THC, not nicotine, and that for some users, e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes. While the THC link is true and e-cigarettes may be considered by some as a better option than smoking, that does not make them healthy or risk-free. While Hillsborough’s frustration is understandable, the best approach would be tougher regulation at the federal and state level.
For students, teachers and parents, vaping is a daily concern. In Hillsborough County schools, tobacco incidents have increased by almost 300 percent in the last three school years. About 41 percent of Pinellas County high school students self-reported vaping at one time. “What’s going on in these schools is unbelievable,” said Hernando County School Board member Gus Guadagnino in a meeting last year. “...Something needs to be done quickly.” Moody’s investigation will rightly target advertisements that are directed towards minors, who are often the key demographic for these devices.
One in four Florida high school students were vaping in 2018. Roughly two-thirds of teens were not even aware that vaping products contained nicotine, according to one study. Moody is putting action behind all the frightening statistics, which will hopefully result in a more comprehensive approach to tougher regulation and advertising requirements.
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