When President Trump outshines the California State Legislature on a public health issue, you know something’s fishy. Yet last week the president surprised many when he said he would direct the Food and Drug Administration to pull flavored vaping products and e-cigarettes from store shelves.
The bold moves against e-cigarettes and vapes – the latest in nicotine addiction technology – come after seven Americans died from a mysterious vape-induced lung illness. They include a Tulare County man who died this week of “severe pulmonary injury associated with vaping,” according to The Fresno Bee. Dozens more have been seriously injured or hospitalized due to e-cigarettes, which include devices used to vaporize marijuana products.
It’s been nothing but bad news for the vaping industry these days – except in the California State Capitol. A strong bill to ban the sale of flavored vaping products was sidelined without a hearing in a committee controlled by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Juul, earlier this summer.
In its place, Gray offered up a weaker bill. It mysteriously vaporized at the last minute. No big loss there. The American Cancer Society Action Network had called the first draft of Gray’s proposal “a complete sham.” State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, told Politico it was “an industry-sponsored plan that doesn’t help alleviate the epidemic of youth vaping.”
Surely, Gray’s actions had nothing to do with the fact that vaping and tobacco companies have poured lots of money into his campaign coffers. Juul, which markets a vaping device popular with school children, donated “$33,800 to Gray and his associated fundraising committees,” according to a story by CALmatters’ Ben Christopher.
The tobacco companies didn’t hesitate to reward Gray handsomely for killing off the bills. “On the first business day after the legislative year came to a close, Assemblyman Adam Gray accepted $25,000 to his ballot measure committee from Philip Morris USA, the maker of America’s most popular cigarette, Marlboro,” reported Scott Lay of The Nooner.
Philip Morris is a subsidiary of Altria, which also owns a large stake in Juul.
Thankfully, Michigan has stepped up to the challenge – followed by President Trump, Gov. Cuomo and, kinda sorta, Gov. Gavin Newsom. On Monday, Newsom unveiled an executive order to address what he called the “youth vaping crisis.”
Newsom said he supports a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products, but his order is weak juice. It requires the California Department of Public Health to launch a $20 million advertising campaign to warn of vaping’s dangers. “He also directs the California tax collection department to step up enforcement of existing fees and regulations of electronic cigarettes,” according to a story by Sacramento Bee reporter Sophia Bollag.
It’s toothless. But look on the bright side: Gov. Newsom just put the vaping industry on notice that California will enact a ban next year. That’s great news.
Even before vaping started to kill people, it had spawned a crisis of youth addiction in schools across the country. In 2018, one out of five high school students reported having vaped. After decades of decline, the percentage of teens using tobacco products started rising again.
Vaping companies like Juul claim their products help adults to quit smoking cigarettes. In reality, vaping is just a new way to sell nicotine addiction to kids. That’s why Altria, the parent company of Marlboro cigarettes, invested $13 billion in Juul last year.
The youth addiction crisis – sparked by nicotine products with kid-friendly flavors like bubble gum, cherry and “unicorn puke” – inspired cities like Sacramento and San Francisco to adopt bans.
It remains to be seen whether President Trump will make good on his threat to go after vaping or quickly lose interest. Fortunately for Californians, Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty will remain focused on eradicating the epidemic.
He co-authored Assembly Bill 739, which would ban the retail sale of flavored products. On Monday, he made it clear the bill will be back.
“We fully support the Governor’s belief that these products should be banned, and we look forward to working with him to pass legislation that will bring an end to this public health crisis and protect the youth in our state,” said McCarty in a statement.
In 2020, it’s on Gov. Newsom to follow through and keep his word. He must work with the Legislature to overcome vape industry lobbying and ensure that California joins Michigan, New York – and President Trump – in banning these addictive poisons.