LOS ANGELES (CN) – Across the country, cities and county governments have banned e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products marketed toward children. But informing the public of the dangers of vaping is difficult because the federal government only recently began to question the health risks.
The city of Los Angeles launched its own anti-vaping campaign “Your Body Knows” on Thursday, just a few days after LA County officials approved a ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, in unincorporated areas of the county.
The LA City Attorney’s office has called for a similar ban within city limits, joining San Francisco and states like Massachusetts and New York that have similar restrictions in place.
Cotton candy and bubblegum flavored e-cigarette cartridges come in colorful packaging that LA City Attorney Mike Feuer says are marketed toward young children.
“The vaping industry is reaping profits, but it’s our kids who pay the price – by putting their health on the line,” said Feuer in a press conference with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at LA City Hall.
“They’re not going to get away with it,” Feuer said. “If they’re not going to tell the truth about those facts then we will.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 530 cases of severe respiratory illnesses have been reported and at least 11 deaths have been linked to the use of e-cigarettes, which heat cartridges containing nicotine or cannabis oil. Vaping jumped 78% from 2017 to 2018 among teenagers and children, who are four times more likely to take up cigarettes, according to the campaign.
The newly launched campaign is not a scared-straight approach to educating the public on the harms of e-cigarettes, even though health officials across the country have said that there are still too many unknowns surrounding vaping to let people continue using those products. In focus groups, Feuer said kids and adults are skeptical about health warnings because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not been consistent in its own messaging.
“The FDA has been dragging its heels on analyzing vaping,” said Feuer.
Becerra said the campaign will “send a message not just to our kids that they should not dive into this deep black hole that could cause their death but to those that would peddle products that harm our families.”
Children in middle school are no strangers to vaping products used by their peers or someone else they know, said Feuer. Some teenagers might know about the dangers of using e-cigarettes, but many are familiar with the slick products like Juul’s vaping pen that can pass for a USB thumb drive.
This week, high school student Lisa Lu spoke to the LA County Board of Supervisors before they voted to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products. She said a ban would help students avoid health risks.
“Big tobacco has been haunting my community and my campus,” Lu told the Board of Supervisors. “Our classmates are getting so addicted they’re hitting their Juuls during class and getting expelled. These flavors mask the harms of addiction.”
Juul replaced its chief executive this week with a veteran from the tobacco industry. Talks between Marlboro maker Philip Morris International and Juul’s biggest investor, Altria Group, went up in smoke this week due to the regulatory backlash from the federal government.