If you talk to any high school principal, administrator or teacher they will tell you about the e-cigarette epidemic that is plaguing America’s teen culture these days. The reach of these products is now expanding too early adolescents, showing that the wave knows no bounds in terms of race, class, region or religion.
My teenage daughter recently attended a suburban mega-church worship service on a Wednesday evening and afterward witnessed the e-cigarette culture alive and well, as spirit-filled teens rushed for the exits to get their nicotine fix in a heavenly cloud of vaping mist. The epidemic use of this product touches youths from all walks of life, not just the stereotypical teen smoker we envision of high school days gone by.
The Trump Administration rightfully recognizes that there is an epidemic. On September 11, 2019, the president announced that they would move forward with a ban on flavored e-cigarette products.
While Juul, who recently partnered up with Altria in a $12.8 billion deal, ostensibly has stood in support of the administration’s proposed bans, actions speak louder than words. Juul claims to support the flavor ban in order to protect teenagers from starting smoking, but they plan to continue selling their mint and menthol-flavored e-cigarette products online.
On the surface, this may appear to be a major change, but the question needs to be asked, given that mint and menthol are the most popular flavors among teenagers, will this half-hearted sales bans make a difference in reducing teen use?
Juul and Altria are blatantly manipulating the flavor ban discussion in their favor. Nielsen data shows that Juul’s mint pods make the company $2.36 billion in annual revenue, mango, which was Juul’s bestseller before mint was introduced, only makes the company $887 million. Why is it that mango, a flavor with much lower sales, is being removed from the market, but mint will remain? Because the company has been using blatant PR tactics and lobbying dollars to trick the public.
To get away with selling mint, Juul has been labeling the flavor as “menthol-based,” in order for it to sound closer to a traditional tobacco flavor. The actual flavor is far from traditional; even the company describes it as tasting like “crisp peppermint” online. Mint is a flavor. It is an insult to the American people to say otherwise. Juul may act like they are going along with the president’s ban, but they are really just looking out for number one: their profits.
It is commendable that President Trump has moved to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but he needs to ensure that the final enacted ban is a true one, free from special interest carve-outs and exemptions. Juul should not be allowed to use their lobbying dollars to persuade the FDA to exclude mint or menthol, their top-selling products, from the ban.
The goal is simple – keep our country’s youth safe and ease the worries of parents, teachers, and families across the country. However corrupt players Altria and Juul would rather put their profits over their health and security, and changes must be made.
Flavors are what has led to the teen vaping epidemic, and it is up to this administration to fight against these too-powerful corporations. They must regulate all flavors rather than show favoritism towards the legacy corporations, whose business practices are anything but fair. In order to end this vaping crisis for good and protect American teenagers, there needs to be a real ban on all flavors of e-cigarettes – one that includes mint and menthol. Without the full ban, any half measures will barely put a dent in teen smoking.
Gary Marx is the Former Executive Director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition