The Vaping Crisis Requires Action Now

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As the state’s tobacco regulator, it is my professional and ethical obligation to do everything possible to keep both cigarettes and e-cigarettes out of the hands of children. In that spirit, I announced a few weeks ago that Maryland would be the first state in the nation to ban the retail sale of flavored, disposable electronic smoking devices (ESDs). These vaping products — which are marketed with names such as Strawberry Hard Candy, Pineapple Lemonade and O.M.G. — are manufactured primarily, if not exclusively, to attract underage consumers and serve as a gateway to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

After years of declining use of cigarettes by young people, the tobacco industry, facing falling profits, needed a new way to hook the next generation of nicotine addicts and sustain its revenue stream. While marketed to the public as a pathway to smoking cessation, vaping has become the principal entry point to nicotine and, eventually, tobacco consumption among both high school and middle school students.

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, over the past 10 years, the rate of cigarette smoking among adolescents has dropped from 20% in 2010 to 7.5% in 2018; however, during the same time frame, the use of e-cigarettes increased 900% among U.S. middle and high school students. More troubling, the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Study indicates that 30% of high school students are regularly using vaping products.

Just take a moment to let those statistics sink in. According to national data, the odds are that 30% of the students at Severna Park and Broadneck high schools are regularly using vaping products. Middle schoolers also are using vaping products in alarming and quickly growing numbers. Ask your kids and they’ll probably tell that they know someone who vapes.

A health crisis of this magnitude requires action now. Our regulatory action is meant to complement any laws currently under consideration by the Maryland General Assembly.

Why did we have to do this on a state level? Because the recent announcement by the Trump administration and the Food and Drug Administration left a gaping loophole in their new regulations for the sale of disposable electronic smoking devices (ESD). These are the products, until we made their sale illegal in February, that you could find at your local convenience store on every corner of Ritchie Highway or Benfield Road.

These products have made their way into consumers’ (and your children’s) hands with virtually no federal regulatory oversight to ensure product quality and safety.

Last fall, I convened the e-facts Task Force on Electronic Smoking Devices to conduct a deep dive into this multibillion-dollar industry. The task force offered insights and expertise that resulted in a dozen policy recommendations to establish a long-overdue regulatory framework for the vaping industry.

As Maryland’s tobacco regulator, I will request regulatory changes that require retailers to use ID-scanning technology to “unlock” purchases of tobacco products/ESDs and other age-restricted products; require retailers to complete an educational program advising them of the dangers of tobacco/ESD use to all consumers upon renewal or issues of a license; and establish disciplinary protocol for retailers who sell tobacco or ESD products to individuals under 21 – including suspension or revocation of their license.

Some of the 12 recommendations involve simple changes to existing laws, such as amending the law that prohibits the online sale of cigarettes to include ESD products; removing the exemption for military members under the age of 21 to purchase cigarettes matching the federal law now in place; and amending Maryland’s Clean Indoor Air Act that prohibits indoor smoking to include vaping products.

Other recommendations suggested will require new legislation, such as restricting entrance to persons 21 and over to vape shops allowed to sell flavored e-liquids and refillable ESD systems and requiring ESD manufacturers to provide ingredient listings and submit to laboratory testing prior to sales.

We have shared these policy proposals with the Maryland General Assembly with the hopes lawmakers will review our report and incorporate these recommendations into legislation.

As comptroller, I must protect consumers and keep dangerous products out of the hands of children – and it is a responsibility that I and my award-winning agency take very seriously. I am proud of the work we have done, and I hope the General Assembly joins me in this bipartisan effort to combat the youth vaping epidemic that has taken such a deep and personal toll on Maryland families.

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