FDA declares vaping an epidemic

Maddie Harris, Features Editor

On her way to a Glenbrook North volleyball game, senior Alana Gertz uncomfortably watched her friends pull out their JUULs to use during the brief car ride. She tries to stay away from these products, so she got a different ride home.

“I don’t say anything, [and] I don’t judge them,” said Gertz. “I just don’t want to be a part of it and don’t want to be exposed to it.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, also known as the FDA, declared youth e-cigarette use an epidemic on Sept. 12.

Joe LaPaille, press secretary for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in an email exchange that Durbin defines epidemic as a widespread occurrence of an issue in a community at a time. Within the last year, vaping has increased by 75 percent in U.S. high schools.

In a phone interview, Kathy Crosby, FDA director of the office of health, communications and education, said the FDA was able to identify the use of e-cigarette products as an epidemic from new survey data of its use among minors.

It is illegal for retailers to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 years old in Northbrook, but the legal age is 21 for most other Chicago suburbs.

“[The FDA has] sent out 1,100 warning letters to retailers all across the nation because we’ve been seeing that [companies] are selling to kids,” Crosby said. 

According to Crosby, the FDA is working directly with tobacco companies and teenagers in an attempt to ensure products are not sold online or at the retail level to any minors. However, due to their recent enactment of these laws, the FDA has not received news yet of stores being caught.

“We work with teens in each state, and basically, teens that are working on our behalf would go in [the stores] and try to buy a tobacco product,” said Crosby. “If they are able to buy [an e-cigarette] product, that’s how we would catch [store workers].”

Gertz said vaping among adolescents should be stopped first so they do not continue to use these products in adulthood, which will eventually eliminate vaping in general.

According to Durbin’s press secretary, Durbin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska have introduced the SAFE Kids Act to ban flavors used by e-cigarette companies to target adolescents. These companies also have one year to prove their product helps adults quit smoking, do not cause kids to start vaping and are not harmful to users.

“The bottom line is this: these products have become popular with young people because that is exactly who e-cigarette companies are targeting,” said Durbin’s  press secretary. “[Companies know] that the best way to make money is to hook kids when they’re young, and [they] will become customers for decades.”