My two teenage daughters laughed at me when I asked if anybody in their school used e-cigarettes or vape products.
Dad, they said, everybody does that.
Teen vaping is an epidemic. Within a five year period, vaping use among high schoolers jumped 900%. I’ve heard stories from my daughters, students, educators, and parents about how prevalent these dangerous products are in our schools. These products pose a serious health risk to our youth.
We know that 98.7% of all e-cigarette products contain nicotine, which makes them just as addictive as regular tobacco and they can cause health problems for developing minds. Vaping products also contain unsafe amounts of chemicals that can cause cancer and increase a person’s heart rate and blood pressure.
Big tobacco and e-cigarette manufacturers say that their products are not purposefully marketed towards children. Either they’re lying or they are out of touch with reality.
Many e-cigarette products are packaged in brightly colored boxes that remind our kids of their favorite candy, cereal and fruit juice.
E-cigarette flavors like cotton candy and “unicorn poop” are named in a way to entice children. In fact, 43% of middle and high school students initially tried these products because of the products’ appealing flavors.
E-cigarettes are also too readily available and easy for children to purchase. These products are sold in drug stores, gas stations, convenience stores and liquor shops – all of which are open to everybody regardless of age.
Retailers caught selling to underage customers are given far too many warnings before real punishments like a temporary suspension of their tobacco resale license, are administered.
In order to address all of these issues, I have worked across the aisle with Assemblymembers Adam Gray, of Merced, Robert Rivas, of Hollister, and Sydney Kamlager-Dove, of Los Angeles, to introduce a comprehensive and robust anti-teen vaping piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 1639.
This legislation would bar tobacco and e-cigarette companies from marketing, packaging or naming their products in a way that would appeal to children. It’s beyond time these companies stop selling “unicorn poop” and packing their dangerous products in ways similar to Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
In addition to stopping the marketing of these products to children, our bipartisan bill would limit the sale of flavored e-cigarette products to only vaping and tobacco shops that prohibit anyone under 21 from entering.
Similar to alcohol at a bar, there’s no reason to allow somebody under 21 to enter one of these vape or tobacco shops. The bill will also require these retailers use age verification technology when selling tobacco and vape products.
Finally, we want to get tough on bad actors who profit off selling tobacco and e-cigarette products to children. Since 74% of kids report buying their own e-cigarette products at retail locations, we need to enact harsher penalties on retailers who are caught selling these products to underage users.
To do so, AB 1639 would require law enforcement to conduct sting operations at retail stores and suspend the tobacco resale license of any store caught violating the law just once.
These are not all original ideas. Most come from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed anti-teen vaping regulations, and were developed in concert with the California Department of Public Health.
This epidemic, like those of the past, deserves a robust and comprehensive public policy response. This bipartisan bill is the response our children need and deserve.
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham is a Republican representing Assembly District 35 in San Luis Obispo. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.