The idea of our children getting addicted to any substance is a nightmare to most adults and parents. And unfortunately, nicotine has been hooking our children since tobacco products have been in use. This fact is why we understand the reactions to nicotine’s latest delivery method, vaping, and the fear that our children are being put in mortal danger for using these products.
There is just one problem though – vaping has also helped countless adults quit a far more scientifically proven dangerous and deadly habit – combustible tobacco products such as cigarettes.
So, what are we to do? Ban products that are helping adults get healthier or let our children become addicted to products that are already illegal for them to use?
As a state representative, when I first heard the stories of severe illness and death thought to be caused by vaping, initially I believed these products had no place on our store shelves. I believed that the dessert and candy flavored vaping products were specifically developed to target our children, the new Joe Camel for the next generation. I called for a ban on these flavors because I thought, what self-respecting adult could possibly want to vape cotton candy or apple pie?
Yet, after doing some research and speaking with my co-authors of this piece, it turns out the answer to that question is not only quite a few, but more importantly, the vast majority of vaping adults. And these adults aren’t vaping these flavors because they have a sweet tooth, they are using these products to quit smoking cigarettes. And, as it is being acknowledged, most of these vaping illnesses and deaths are being caused by black market THC vaping products, not traditional nicotine e-cigarettes.
So, is it possible to protect our children from nicotine addiction while also supporting these adults who have taken the healthy step of quitting cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products?
We believe there is, and after consulting with several experts, here is what we are proposing:
Raise the legal purchasing age to 21, which will prevent 18 year old high school students from buying nicotine vapor products for their younger friends.
Regulate the ingredients and potency of nicotine strength in vaping products.
Only allow flavored nicotine products to be sold in specialty vaping brick and mortar and online stores with strict age verification and fraud prevention systems in place. This will take these products out of gas stations and convenience stores where children have always been able to obtain these products and cigarettes.
Harsher penalties for selling or giving these products to anyone who is underage.
These points are sensible responses to a complex public health problem. Blanket bans will only drive both adults and our children to the black market where the true harm and danger lies. We understand the fear and anxiety that has developed around these products, but we cannot craft functional public health policy through fear and emotions. Across the country where flavor bans have been enacted, not only has youth vaping continued to increase, adult vapor users have been forced to either dangerously use black market products or return to cigarettes, eliminating the personal and public health benefits of discontinuing combustible tobacco use.
Youth vaping is a public health problem that needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of adults who are relying on these products to lead healthier lifestyles. There is a solution, but it must come from study, facts, and data, not emotions, fear and prohibition.
Julie A. Casimiro, a Democrat, represents District 31 in the RI House of Representatives. She resides in North Kingstown. Mike Runshe is the CEO of Giant Vapes. Dino Barcarri is the owner of White Horse Vapor.