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CEO Perspective

To Stop the Youth Vaping Epidemic, The Government Must Regulate Now.

Statement from José Luis Castro, President and Chief Executive Officer at Vital Strategies, on the recent CDC report about falling smoking rates:

“Smoking in the United States has fallen to record low levels—to 13.7% of adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This continuous decline in smoking in the U.S. is thanks to proactive public health protections, enacted despite an unrepentant tobacco industry determined to undermine tobacco control policies in the U.S. and around the globe.

While the decline in smoking is good news, the rapid uptake of e-cigarettes in the United States and globally is of urgent concern. Claims by the industry that these products were targeted to smokers to help them quit are belied by marketing that targets kids. Some five million children, including more than one in four high-school kids, are now vaping in the U.S. The FDA has left these products almost completely unregulated and largely available to youth. The rash of vaping-related illnesses and deaths is an alarming bell that rang too late.

The report also had other worrying signals. The data shows that the tobacco industry’s targeting of disadvantaged populations is working. Smoking rates are higher among poor people, LGBT people, those reporting recent psychological distress and those with disabilities. Vulnerable people deserve special attention and the same levels of protection as the population at large.

Inaction by the federal government across a range of tobacco products, notably e-cigarettes, is endangering progress and leaving Americans, especially youth, at risk. To address the tobacco and vaping epidemics:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should immediately ban e-cigarette flavors that can lure children. They should also restrict marketing and regulate production.
  • The federal government should implement graphic health warnings on all tobacco products (including e-cigarettes), restrict marketing, use taxes to increase prices, raise the purchase age of all tobacco products to 21, and support high-impact media campaigns to warn about the dangers of tobacco products.

Every American deserves the greatest chance at a long, healthy life. The CDC’s report shows that tobacco control policies work. We need to accelerate progress and protect our gains with rapid and sustained action to heavily regulate the full spectrum of tobacco products and the industry that promotes them.”

Background:

According to the new report in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,Tobacco Product Use and Cessation Indicators Among Adults — United States, 2018 , 49 million American adults—nearly one in five—use tobacco products. Cigarette smoking among adults fell to 13.7% in 2018, down from 14% in 2017. The longer-term trend reveals a more significant reduction: tobacco control policies have helped to decrease the proportion of adult smokers by two-thirds, from 42% in 1965. The report confirms that tobacco use is higher among men, minorities, people earning less than $35,000 per year, and people with a disability/limitation or serious psychological distress.

On adult e-cigarette use, the report showed that there was a 14% increase in among all adults to 3.2% in 2018, attributed to climbing use among young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. E-cigarette use among this age bracket increased to 7.6% in 2018. For youth e-cigarette use, a 2019 report in JAMA indicated that in 2019, 27.5% of high-school students and 10.5% of middle-school students reported current use of e-cigarettes. 

The World Health Organization has endorsed six evidence-driven strategies that governments should use to reduce tobacco use. These wide-reaching strategies will mean more people quit smoking, and fewer people—especially youth—start. Many of these policies are not fully implemented nationally in the United States. They are: monitor tobacco use and prevention policies through systematic surveillance; protect people from tobacco smoke through 100% smoke-free indoor air laws; offer help to quit tobacco use by supporting cessation; warn about the dangers of tobacco through hard-hitting media campaigns and graphic health warnings; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship through legislation; and raise taxes on tobacco to decrease affordability.