Following a vote by San Francisco’s lawmakers to ban e-cigarettes until they’ve been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, lawmakers in state and local governments are now figuring out what they can do without help from the feds.
The San Francisco bill is expected to soon be signed by Mayor London Breed.
"[San Francisco] sent an important message to the Food and Drug Administration that it needs to do its job now to limit youth access an appeal to the products. This ordinance does what the FDA should have been doing all along, which is to ensure that they’re going through the appropriate review — to consider the public health risk, to consider the appeal to youth — before they hit the market,” said Matthew Wellington, the campaign director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which advocates against nicotine products.
The rise in youth vaping has been called an "epidemic.” The FDA's 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that there are more than 3.6 million kids currently using e-cigarettes.
While vaping among minors declined between 2015 and 2017, the trend sharply reversed last year, with a whopping 78 percent increase among high school students from 2017 to 2018.
In regards to San Francisco’s legislation, a spokesperson for the agency shared in an emailed statement: “The FDA is committed to continuing to tackle the troubling epidemic of e-cigarette use among kids. This includes limiting youth access to, and appeal of, flavored tobacco products like e-cigarettes and cigars, taking action against manufacturers and retailers who illegally market or sell these products to minors, and educating youth about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Some cities have already begun attempts to regulate the product, though none yet have gone as far as full prohibition.
“San Francisco is taking an important step. I would encourage other cities and towns to follow their lead, especially when it comes to banning flavored e-cigarettes,” Wellington said..
While some lawmakers have considered tighter regulations — such as classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products — other proposals include raising the e-cigarette age-of-purchase for products to 21.
It has not been lost on critics that San Francisco’s effective ban would not stop minors from buying e-cigarettes in other parts of the Bay area that are accessible by public transportation.
While the nearby cities of Richmond and Livermore have both begun to consider legislation banning e-cigarettes, there don’t appear to be similar proposals in either San Jose or Berkeley.
A representative for the Oakland city government did not respond to a request for comment.
Major e-cigarette manufacturer Juul has staunchly opposed full prohibition of the product, but supports raising the age-of-purchase for the product to 21.
That support comes as Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced a proposal to raise the national minimum age for purchasing tobacco to 21, including e-cigarettes.
“You have to understand that 15 percent of American high school students are now legal age. They’re 18 or 19 years old. And they’re the source of the majority of tobacco projects used by underage kids. And this should stop that,” Brad Rodu, medical professor at the University of Louisville, told Cheddar on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the FDA has set a 2022 deadline for e-cigarette companies to submit their products for approval.
“That’s a lifetime away. We saw a nearly 80 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high schoolers last year. If we wait much longer, we could be seeing an entire generation addicted to nicotine products,” said Wellington.
Some states have taken regulating e-cigarettes upon themselves.
Vermont, for instance, has plans to institute a 92 percent tax on vaping products beginning this July. And in Maine, legislators are considering a law that would apply tobacco taxes to e-cigarettes, as well as another that would effectively ban the product by forbidding the sale of nicotine liquid containers (which vaping products require).
Just last month, North Carolina’s attorney general filed the first state lawsuit against Juul.
The legislation aims to limit the availability of Juul both online and in stores to only tobacco and menthol flavors. Currently, customers can buy tobacco, menthol, and mint flavors in stores and any flavor online ーJuul offers flavors like cucumber, mango, and creme ー after verifying their age.