(OPINION) – Last month, we saw an effort in the California State House to ban flavored tobacco fail after a key committee opted not to hear the bill. In the state Senate, there is a similar bill that will probably receive a floor vote soon, but the expectation is that bill will also face hurdles in the House. These unsuccessful efforts are casting doubt on whether the state will be able to enact meaningful changes to tobacco laws that will reverse the trend in teen smoking.
The increased interest in banning flavored tobacco products is due, in part, to a recent study that shows the correlation between teen smoking and their increased interest in e-cigarettes. According to the Truth Initiative, a study showed that 20% of high school students used either e-cigarettes or other smokeless products in the past 30 days. That is nearly four times the number of teens who reported using traditional cigarettes. You also don’t see these trends in adult smokers: only 2% reported using e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products.
I admire California legislators for attempting to address this critical issue and I remain hopeful that the state House and Senate can come together to pass meaningful legislation that will keep e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products out of the hands of California teens.
But, while we wait for change at the state level, I am also grateful to see important action happening on the federal level to address teen smoking as well.
Some of you have read about the recent push by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to increase the national age to purchase tobacco products to 21. Senator McConnell’s position has helped create the momentum for states across the country to pass their own version of this bill. Earlier this month, Texas joined about a dozen other states in enacting similar policies.
But these aren’t the only proposals that could help reverse the trend of teen smoking.
Our home state Senator Dianne Feinstein, alongside a bipartisan group of Senators, has introduced the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act.
This legislation, introduced in April, would update the laws that govern tobacco deliveries. As it stands, there is no requirement for a physical ID check when an e-cigarette product is purchased online and delivered, unlike traditional cigarettes where an ID check is mandatory. This legislation would update the law to treat e-cigarette products the same as traditional tobacco products.
Senator Feinstein’s legislation is a critical component to addressing teen smoking because of the teens who reported purchasing their own e-cigarettes, over 30% bought these products online. Even if the federal and state age to purchase tobacco products is increased, tech-savvy teens will still be able to order these products online without additional protective measures like requiring an ID check upon delivery.
California and the nation are facing an epidemic of teen smoking that directly results from the increased availability of flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products. And e-cigarette companies like Juul are hiring high-powered lobbyists in D.C. and across the country to fight against any effort made to decrease their market share. Just last month, Juul hired two senior trump officials to fight against a San Francisco ballot imitative that would prevent them from doing business in the city.
Given that teen smoking is a public health crisis, our elected representatives in positions of power like Senator Feinstein and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) must take action to fight for the next generation and support common sense, effective legislation.
By Jaivon Grant | Special to the Observer