‘They’re so addicted’: DC Council hears concerns on youth vaping

The risks of teens vaping and using electronic cigarettes is the focus of a public hearing before the D.C. Council. (File, AP Photo/Steven Senne)

As the D.C. Council considers three bills targeting electronic cigarettes and nicotine addiction, advocates and citizens have voiced concern that tobacco products are aimed primarily at children and African Americans.

“We are seeing kids more addicted, more rapidly, more intensely than we ever saw with cigarettes,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a hearing before the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

In November, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced a lawsuit against Juul Labs — the industry-leader in e-cigarette and vaping products. The suit alleges Juul targets underage customers, and deceived consumers about the content, strength and safety of its products.

New data shows more than 30% of American high school students are using tobacco products, in large part because of e-cigarettes’ enticing flavors.

“We have kids who can’t sit in a classroom for 45 minutes without getting a puff,” said Myers. “We have kids who are taking these products to bed with them because they’re so addicted.”

Committee Chair Charles Allen said the overwhelming majority of people vaping are young people.

“These products are especially dangerous for teenagers,” Allen said. “The CDC reports using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.”

The council has three related bills before it: the Flavored Electronic Smoking Device Prohibition Amendment Act of 2019, the Prohibition of Electronic Smoking Sales without a Prescription Act of 2019 and the Electronic Smoking Device Sales Restriction Amendment Act of 2019.

Carla Williams, interim director of the Howard University Cancer Center, asked the council to widen its net by banning nicotine flavors in traditional cigarettes.

“We cannot ignore that nearly 9 of 10 African-American smokers age 12 and older use menthol cigarettes,” Williams said.

“It encourages initiation and addiction, is used disproportionately by young and minority groups, especially African Americans, and it makes it more difficult to quit smoking,” she added.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh said the tobacco industry is continuing to operate in bad faith.

“They misrepresent. They outright lie. They use public relations and lobbying and money to say, ‘No, no, no, we can get this under control,'” Cheh said.

Representatives of the American Vaping Association and Capital Vape Supply are among the 78 scheduled speakers before the council.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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