Our Opinion: Threat to communities posed by e-cigarettes


E-cigarettes, billed as a way to help adults quit traditional cigarettes, have become hugely popular with teenagers. This may have been an unanticipated consequence of an effort to help adults get away from cigarettes, although cynics can be forgiven for believing that the tobacco industry, always seeking ways to maintain the youth market, knew this all along that teens would begin vaping the nicotine-infused e-cigarettes. Either way, communities have to confront this new headache.

The Eastern Massachusetts city of Somerville became the first in the state to take action when its Board of Health banned the sale of e-cigarettes, along with menthol cigarettes, which also appeal to young people, in any stores that are open to those under the age of 21, according to the Boston Globe. The ban, which is effective as of April 1, 2019, will in essence cause convenience stores to remove the products from their shelves.

Somerville was motivated by the conclusion of its Youth Risk Behavior Survey that the use of e-cigarettes by young people almost doubled between 2016 and 2018 as the use of traditional cigarettes declined. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 3.6 million young people across the nation, including 1 in 5 high school students, use e-cigarettes, along with an increasing number of middle-schoolers. The U.S. surgeon general has described this problem as an "epidemic" among American youth.

A spokesman for the popular e-cigarette manufacturer Juul told the Globe that the company had stopping selling flavors like mango and fruit that are particularly appealing to youth. It is, however, still selling the mint and menthol favors that dominate the market. It seems likely that retailers will sue Somerville on the grounds that its attempt to curb use of e-cigarettes by young people is depriving adults of their option to smoke them because they will no longer be available in stores that sell products to young people — which is essentially most or every store.

Joyce Brewer, the Berkshire Tobacco-Free Community Partnership program manager for the Berkshire Area Health Education Center, has written about the rising use of e-cigarettes by county youth on The Eagle oped page. She reported that when schools reopened this fall she heard from many parents worried about the disturbing popularity of the product. She has recommended that adults get more information on vaping and vaping products on the GetOutraged.org website. Ms. Brewer can be contacted at 413-236-2145 or at jbrewer@berkshireahec.org for more information.

Berkshire communities, among them Pittsfield, that have shown initiative on preventing young people from smoking, should monitor the Somerville ban and the likely challenges to it in the months ahead. The battle against youth smoking is seemingly an endless one. E-cigarettes are the latest front to open.



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