Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

The federal government is taking steps to limit access to e-cigarettes and reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes this week. The local public health department thinks those steps should be effective in achieving the intended goal of reducing youth use and addiction.

“Tobacco Free Humboldt and Public Health, we just really support a healthier retail environment that limits access to harmful products because that’s what could be a really big part of the solution,” Kristi Alberti-Valles, a health education specialist with Humboldt County Public Health’s Healthy Communities Division, told the Times-Standard.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced it is going to establish a maximum level of nicotine in cigarettes with the goals of reducing how addictive cigarettes are and rates of youth use, addiction and death. That was followed by a decision on Thursday to pull Juul Labs e-cigarettes from store shelves after it failed to provide evidence that its products meet the agency’s health standards.

“The FDA is tasked with ensuring that tobacco products sold in this country meet the standard set by the law, but the responsibility to demonstrate that a product meets those standards ultimately falls on the shoulders of the company,” Michele Mital, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement. “As with all manufacturers, JUUL had the opportunity to provide evidence demonstrating that the marketing of their products meets these standards. However, the company did not provide that evidence and instead left us with significant questions. Without the data needed to determine relevant health risks, the FDA is issuing these marketing denial orders.”

Juul challenged the decision and its products aren’t yet off the market, but both announcements from the Biden-Harris administration and FDA either explicitly stated or alluded to their larger goals of reducing rates of addiction to vaping and smoking cigarettes.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, disease and disability in the U.S., costing the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tobacco industry spends billions on marketing cigarettes and the CDC estimate about 1,600 young people try their first cigarette every day.

Juul, specifically, played a central role in the ongoing youth e-cigarette epidemic by targeting young people through the use of social media influencers, attempts to infiltrate school programs and funding summer camp programs for kids as young as eight, among other strategies, Alberti-Valles said.

A 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed how 20 years of efforts to reduce teenage addiction to nicotine were wiped out by the introduction of e-cigarettes. The rate of 12th graders who smoked cigarettes in the past month dropped from 35% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2019, but vaping rates went from 1.6% in 2011 to 26.2% in 2019.

According to data from the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey, just 2% of ninth graders and 3% of 11th graders in Humboldt County reported smoking cigarettes in the past 30 days. In comparison, 15% of 11th graders and 11% of ninth graders reported vaping in the past month.

“The tobacco companies have always known that they need to replace their smokers with young people,” Alberti-Valles said.

In a recent survey of about a couple hundred people done by the county, respondents said tobacco was one of the three substances that were a big issue for local youth after cannabis and alcohol.

Anyone interested in finding out more information about how to quit smoking can go to kickitca.org.

“That’s really going to provide a lot of information for parents,” Alberti-Valles said. “A lot of people just really don’t understand that vaping is really unhealthy and that the risk to health and developing an addiction are much greater than people perceive, so using websites like Kick it California will really help our parents get the information to help their kids prevent developing or kick a habit.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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