Gottheimer Announces War on Underage Vaping

Sep 23, 2019

Announces Battle Plan to Halt Youth E-Cig Use in New Jersey and Nationwide -- Advocates for New Technology to Jam Vaping Devices on School Grounds -- Ban Flavors, Online Sales

Above: Gottheimer announces steps to fight underage vaping, alongside youth advocates, law enforcement, and health and addiction prevention experts.

Today, Monday, September 23, 2019, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced a multifaceted battle plan as part of his “war on youth vaping” combat the youth vaping and e-cigarette epidemic plaguing the country.

Gottheimer’s battle plan includes:

1) Introducing bipartisan legislation to prohibit online sales of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes;

2) Banning e-cigarette flavors nationwide;  

3) Working with the FDA to require new e-cigarettes include one-way communication technology to “jam” e-cigs from use on school grounds, and, in the meantime, requiring e-cigarette vapor sensors in all schools; 

4) Raising the minimum tobacco purchase age to 21;

5) Banning all non-tobacco e-cigarette products, flavored vaping liquids, and counterfeit e-cigarettes throughout New Jersey; and

6) Beginning a full CDC investigation into the recent vaping lung illnesses and the broader impact of vaping on youth.

“Plain and simple: we need a war on youth vaping. Today, I’m announcing a comprehensive battle plan, including six concrete steps, to help fight that war on underage vaping – and help put an end to the youth epidemic,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “We need to do everything we can to turn the tide, help our children stay healthy, and ensure they’re able to live long, happy, healthy lives. As a parent, that’s truly the goal here. Our schools need to be preparing our kids for the future, not preparing them for hospital visits, or worse.”

The FDA released data last week stating that one in four 12th graders said they had vaped in the previous month. Last year, the FDA found that use of e-cigarettes had increased 80% among high schoolers and 50% among middle schoolers. 

The CDC has reported 530 current vaping-related lung illnesses, including cases in New Jersey. Of these mysterious vaping lung ailments, 16% of the cases involve those ages 18 or younger. These cases have already resulted in eight deaths. 

Joining Gottheimer during his announcement at the Boys & Girls Club in Lodi today were Lodi Mayor Scott Luna; Assemblyman Christopher Tully (LD-38); Bergen Freeholder Vice Chairwoman Amoroso; Lodi Police Chief Donald Scorzetti; Joe Licata, CEO, and Mike Williams, Board President, of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lodi & Hackensack; Tina Aue, Director of Prevention Services at the Center for Prevention & Counseling; Samantha Harries of the New Jersey Prevention Network; and Ellen Elias from Children’s Aid; youth advocates Sophia Patel and Keith Furtado; and members of the Lodi Police Department.

“It is our duty as legislators to combat this epidemic in our youth and simply, as parents, to do all we can to protect our kids. New Jersey will continue to be a leader in battling this health crisis and I thank Congressman Gottheimer for all his efforts to protect our community,” said New Jersey Assemblyman Christopher Tully (LD-38).

“Many of these products come in kid-friendly flavors, making them more appealing to young people and increasing the chance of initiating use. Unfortunately, the advertising and marketing tactics were developed in part with the intention to specifically target minors to make them the next generation addicted to nicotine. So, now we need to take the next steps to address the issue,” said Tina Aue, Director of Prevention Services, Center for Prevention & Counseling. “The use of these products is particularly harmful to young people because nearly all of them contain nicotine. It is not only highly addictive, but exposure can harm adolescent brain development and may increase their risk for using other tobacco products and harmful substances.” 

“We are so thankful for the Congressman’s efforts and advocacy regarding this critically important issue. NJPN and Tobacco Free For a Healthy NJ are in full support of the Congressman’s multi strategy approach, especially the focus on a flavor ban that includes menthol products,” said Samantha Harries, New Jersey Prevention Network. “In prevention we know a more comprehensive approach, including reducing the availability and access of these products to our youth, is the key to turning the tide on the youth vaping epidemic.”  

“This is a marketing dream that has turned into a public health crisis. It seemed like a wonderful, harmless product, and they targeted teens and young adults with candy flavors, and people are dying. So, I am so grateful to Josh Gottheimer, our Congressman, for being proactive with this. We’ve got to stop this. We have to change minds and change behaviors, because this is so dangerous,” said Bergen Freeholder Vice Chairwoman Mary Amoroso.

“What is so problematic is that most teens who vape or use e-cigarettes do not think that they are harmful, and the truth is that these devices are addictive, and chemical-ridden,” said Joe Licata, CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lodi & Hackensack. “And so, we at Boys and Girls Clubs are ready to help protect teens from these dangerous devices. We would also like to thank Congressman Gottheimer for holding this event and raising the importance of the teen vaping epidemic.”

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

More than twenty years ago, then-President Bill Clinton, and a team of tenacious advocates, including the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, declared war on youth smoking. Back then, 22 percent of all 12th graders smoked.  In fact, every day, 3,000 young people would begin to smoke; and that 1,000 of them will ultimately die of diseases caused by smoking.

After two decades — years of hard work — and smart action by groups, Congress and the states, that rate plummeted. By 2017, only 4 percent of 12th graders smoked. 

Then came e-cigarettes, claiming they were helping adult smoking cessation, which, if that’s the ultimate result, would obviously be a good thing. But there’s been one collateral, disastrous problem in this effort. Some of the vaping companies weren’t satisfied with adult smokers alone. They started targeting children — impressionable kids, Jersey’s children — with e-cigarette flavors including blueberry and strawberry custard.

These vaping companies spewed facts to students about the health of e-cigarettes, declaring, according to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, that they were 99 percent healthier than traditional cigarettes.  And they made they devices look cool. Juuls, for instance, look like thumb drives and clip right onto your jeans. Even if you’re underage, many teenagers have figured out how to scam the system, and buy vaping devices and cartridges right online.

So, today, after all the progress we made against youth smoking, the rates are now way up – and heading even higher. According to data released last week, one in four 12th graders said they had vaped in the previous month. Last year, the FDA found that use of e-cigarettes was up 80 percent among high schoolers — and 50 percent among middle schoolers.

And, it’s become the thing to do in school. The bathrooms, in classrooms, you name it. You can’t smell it. Unlike when I was in high school, when you knew kids were smoking cigarettes. Vaping is odorless so students are literally vaping in the back of classrooms.

And many kids who start vaping just can’t stop. Why? Because they are incredibly addicted. The science is clear. Throughout your teen years, your frontal lobe is still forming. What that means is that the rational part of a teen’s brain is not completely formed. And this isn’t chewing gum or candy cigarettes. Nicotine is a real, highly addictive drug, with, as we know, very real dangers. The National Institutes for Health (NIH) has said that teens are especially sensitive to nicotine’s addictive effects because, in effect, it can rewire the brain to become more easily addicted to other drugs. Nicotine also increases blood pressure and heart rate, narrows the arteries, and hardens arterial walls, which can lead to heart attacks and even death.

The result: a five alarm vaping fire. A true youth crisis. What we have is a perfect storm of a highly addictive substance with fun flavors, a cool device, impressionable teens, easy online access, and smoke that’s difficult to detect.

The CDC is reporting a growing number of 530 vaping-related lung illnesses right now, and that includes cases from right here in Jersey. There have already been eight deaths from these mysterious ailments. And 16 percent of these cases involve kids who are 18 or younger. What we need are real tools, with real power, to beat back this crisis.

These cases will continue to spread like wildfire, because, right now, five million kids nationwide are vaping. Plain and simple: we need a war on youth vaping. Today, I’m announcing a comprehensive battle plan, including six concrete steps, to help fight that war on underage vaping – and help put an end to the youth epidemic.

Like any battle, just like cigarettes, this will take a team effort.  Last week, I signed on as an original member of a new, bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Caucus to End the Youth Vaping Epidemic, with a clear objective: To join advocacy groups, experts, and health officials to find new ways Congress can make a difference. Here’s my battle plan.

First, I’m calling on the Centers for Disease Control — the CDC — to fully investigate the health implications of e-cigarette use, including the recent lung illnesses and deaths. We need to fully understand the cause of these recent deaths and the broader impact vaping is having on young people, in particular. While the Food and Drug Administration has launched a criminal probe into the recent spike in vaping-related illnesses, there has been no consistent product, or substance, or brand identified in all of these cases.   The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has said, “We are in desperate need of facts.”

Second, and I’m not alone in calling for this, we must ban all flavors of e-cigarettes.  We know these vaping flavors, which you can find behind the counters of most convenience stores, grocery stores, vaping shops, and online, include youth-appealing flavors like “gummy bear” and “blue raz cotton candy. These obviously aren’t meant for adults.

Right now, my friend and colleague from New Jersey, Frank Pallone, who is the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is working on a bill to combat this youth vaping problem. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation, which includes a ban on all flavors of e-cigarettes.

For decades now, Frank has been a tireless fighter and leader against youth smoking and tobacco use. I know that President Trump has also said he is for banning flavors — I hope he will follow through and not buckle to pressure.

Third, I’m cosponsoring bipartisan, bicameral legislation — the Tobacco to 21 Act — which would raise the age of purchase of any tobacco products to 21. We’ve needed something like this for a very long time, but especially now, when we’re seeing a rapid reversal of the gains we’ve made in reducing youth tobacco use. I’m glad there is such bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.

Fourth, in the coming weeks, I’ll be introducing bipartisan legislation to prohibit online sales of all tobacco products, and this includes e-cigarettes. In New Jersey, it is illegal to buy cigarettes online.  But for some reason, which makes no sense to me, that rule doesn’t apply to e-cigarettes.  Vaping products are being sold online, via websites, Instagram, Facebook, you name it. And, while there are verification systems, there is no real way to absolutely confirm the purchasers age through these types of transactions.  Without being able to see the end user in person, it’s just too easy to scam the system, and have others make the purchase – like high school seniors buying for high school freshmen. Sellers of vaping products must be able to completely verify the buyer’s age, and the only way to do that is through face-to-face interactions.

Fifth, just as other states are taking action, New Jersey needs to continue its fight against vaping. I’m glad that the New Jersey legislature, led by State Senate President Steve Sweeney, announced comprehensive, aggressive legislation that would ban all non-tobacco e-cigarette products. Governor Murphy also signed an Executive Order to create the Electronic Smoking Device Task Force. Three states — New York, California, and Michigan — have also cracked down on flavored liquids and counterfeit e-cigarettes, banning them all together, and other states and municipalities  have banned all e-cigarettes in schools and raised the age to 21. New Jersey should do the same. 

I also want to commend retail stores including Walmart that have made the decisions to stop selling all e-cigarette products, to help combat youth vaping. I urge other retailers to follow suit.

Sixth and finally, I believe, wherever possible, we must use the power of technology to stop youth vaping.  As you heard before, we know that one in four high school seniors admitted to vaping in school, and, because it’s odorless, it’s nearly impossible to detect. Some schools have placed teacher monitors in school bathrooms; others have removed the doors on bathroom stalls.  But it’s a losing battle.  There is no reason why the FDA can’t require these vaping companies to develop and add one-way communication technology, basically chips, into all new e-cigarettes, so that we can effectively “jam” e-cigarettes when they are in schools.  We have jammers to stop cell phones in certain areas; why not do the same with e-cigarettes.   Whatever the technological solution, they must be one-way, so they can’t use it to track the device. But if we can stop these devices from working on school grounds, this would be a monumental step to help stop youth vaping. 

In the meantime, I believe every school district in New Jersey and across the country should utilize e-cigarette sensors that are already on the market.  E-cigarette sensors act like smoke detectors, but can pick up odorless vapor and send a real-time alert to school officials when they detect vaping.  We already have some of these devices at work in school bathrooms in New Jersey; they should be in every school. I know that our Assemblyman, Chris Tully, is working with his colleagues to make this happen.

So, if you’ve followed along and if I’ve done my math correctly, we’re at six concrete steps  in our battle plan to help fight our war on youth vaping. I’m actively looking for additional steps to add to our plan. We need to do everything we can to turn the tide, help our children stay healthy, and ensure they’re able to live long, happy, healthy lives. As a parent, that’s truly the goal here. Our schools need to be preparing our kids for the future, not preparing them for hospital visits, or worse.

With these steps, I know that here, in the greatest country in the world, the best days for our country, and our children, will always be ahead of us. Thank you all for your support and work in this critical fight against youth vaping.

God bless you, God bless the work you all do, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.  Thank you.


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