Florida investigation will help eradicate vaping epidemic among students | Opinion

The Florida Department of Health says that from 2017 to 2018 e-cigarette use has increased 58 percent among high school students in the state.
The Florida Department of Health says that from 2017 to 2018 e-cigarette use has increased 58 percent among high school students in the state. Getty Images

This summer, I traveled the state to learn directly from parents, teachers and law enforcement about what was behind the recent dramatic increase in vaping among our youth. I was astounded by what I found.

Vaping is commonplace in high schools, an observation that was confirmed by a Florida Department of Health report that showed nearly one in four Florida high school students admits to vaping and that e-cigarette use has increased by a stunning 58 percent among this same group from 2017 to 2018.

As a mother, this concerns me personally. As Florida’s attorney general, it is my duty to use the powers of the office, within the bounds of its jurisdiction, to investigate issues that may result in harm to Floridians.

Consequently, we are launching an investigation into more than 20 vaping companies that do business in Florida. The investigation will focus largely on whether these companies target minors in their advertising. We also are focused on whether some of these companies are misleading consumers in their marketing regarding the safety and health impacts of e-cigarettes.

There are claims that e-cigarettes can be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. All four of my husband’s grandparents succumbed to smoking-related diseases. Their lives were cut short far too early. If some e-cigarette products ultimately are found to have a role in helping smokers quit and can reduce the tragic consequences of nicotine addiction so that another generation can avoid the same fate, that would be wonderful. I welcome any credible research or other information that supports that view. But, until we know more, we must work to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

My biggest concern is for our children.

I have seen advertisements that obviously are designed to attract minors: e-cigarette liquids packaged to resemble cereal boxes, juice boxes and candy containers with names like Fluffy O’s, Cap’n Crunk, Banana Slush, Carnie Candy, Monkey Pop and Swedish Fish. These ads are alarming and bear no resemblance to traditional cigarette marketing, which is strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to avoid enticing minors and to disclose the dangers of tobacco use.

For years, the FDA has banned the manufacture and sale of all cigarettes that are not tobacco or menthol flavored. But by not moving quickly when e-cigarettes were introduced into the marketplace, the FDA has created a gray area in which e-cigarette makers have not yet been held to similar standards.

We have seen this before. Advertising by big tobacco companies was left unregulated for years as generations became addicted to their products. Whether or not e-cigs are found, ultimately, to present a safer alternative to smoking, they are still nicotine-delivery devices, and nicotine is extremely harmful to children.

We cannot wait on the FDA’s lengthy, overdue regulatory process. Clearly, as teen vaping and hospitalizations continue to grow, we must act with urgency and hold accountable those companies we determine are playing fast and loose when it comes to the precious lives of our youth.

Ashley Moody is Florida’s attorney general.