Richardson column: Not buying the tobacco industry lobby on vaping
As mayor of Carbondale and father of two teenage boys, I have become immersed in the issue of vaping. Vaping has become a quiet epidemic in our schools, and I applaud the city of Glenwood’s recent efforts as well as many other cities, towns and counties taking action.
I am happy to report that the town of Carbondale is pursuing aggressive policies, as well. In this column, I want to address some of the concerns voiced by retailers about proposed new rules.
First, is there really a problem? Ask any local high schooler (and now middle schooler), and they will confirm that vaping is ubiquitous in the schools.
Statistics show that, nationally, vaping has sky-rocketed in recent years, with Colorado being one of the worst states, and the Roaring Fork Valley as the worst of the worst. The sad part is that, because it’s so easy to conceal, it’s still flying under the radar for many parents.
New studies are finding that this concentrated use of nicotine while teenage brains are still forming may be making them more vulnerable to substance abuse in the future. If that doesn’t light up a parent’s radar, I’m not sure what will.
Retailers are concerned that a flavored-nicotine product ban is heavy-handed and anti-free market. But, to have a functioning free market you must have some rules and enough information for consumers to be well-informed.
The FDA has taken some measly steps to discourage youth use, but its oversight does not provide any health/safety standard, let alone any useful information on the true risks of vaping.
I suspect most consumers are under a very false assumption that the FDA has tested and approved these products.
Recently, industry lobbyists called me to dissuade the town from adopting nicotine policies. Unfortunately, the group, including a paid lobbyist and trade group representatives, validated many if not all of my concerns.
First, they confirmed that testing is still in its infancy. Only recently have independent labs (because the manufacturers aren’t required to) started testing the true effect of the vapor after the toxic liquid has been superheated and inhaled. The testing is identifying unforeseen health hazards that are bad enough that even the FDA is starting to take notice.
I was shocked at one remark made by a manufacturer stating that they needed the ability to sell their products so that they can afford further testing.
I asked if they would be comfortable letting their teenagers drive a car before it had been safety tested.
Required testing and regulations clearly add costs to any business, but how many people died in cars before we required seat belts? Was the new rule worth it? The thousands of people that are alive today because of it would probably agree.
The lobbying group restated the common mantra that vaping was intended to be a smoking cessation product, but they also acknowledged that users are now four times more likely to start smoking after vaping.
Statistics from local schools show smoking is indeed on the rise again. So the threshold questions is this: Is the trade-off of the hope that some smokers might quit because of fruity flavors worth allowing an entirely new epidemic of youth addiction, life-disrupting behavior at perhaps the most critical stage, and a lifetime of deteriorating health worth it? How can anyone say yes to that?
How about well-informed consumers? Following tradition, industry has deliberately misinformed consumers by claiming some flavored products, with names reminiscent of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, didn’t have nicotine. Independent testing shows 100% do.
No wonder big tobacco is investing by the billions. It’s a perfect strategy for them to find “replacement smokers” for those who are dying off.
As far as I’m concerned, the policies that local governments are considering are the last defense for what I consider to be an assault on our youth — one that is unethical, unregulated and out of control.
I welcome an opposing viewpoint, as I am hopeful that someone can relieve my alarm about the issue. So far, it’s wishful thinking.
I am happy to take the heat from industry so that our kids don’t inhale the super-heat of vaping.
Dan Richardson is the current elected mayor of Carbondale.
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