John Sarbanes and Brian Frosh: Working to Reduce Youth Vaping and Tobacco Use

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With the alarming rise in vaping among teenagers and adolescents, a new public health crisis is unfolding right before our eyes. At the state and federal level, we must move swiftly to protect our children from the harmful, and sometimes deadly, effects of vaping.

The number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million in 2018 to 5.4 million in 2019 – a 50% increase in a single year. This spike in e-cigarette use has coincided with a significant surge in vaping-related illnesses nationwide. In 2019 alone, the Centers for Disease Control reported 2,506 vaping-related illnesses, including 54 deaths, with nearly 200 new cases reported each week.

As the vaping crisis grows, it is incumbent upon state and federal officials to work together to stem the rise in youth vaping and prevent another generation of Americans from getting hooked on nicotine. This important effort begins by stopping Big Tobacco from continuing to sell fruit-flavored and candy-flavored e-cigarette products, which are increasingly popular among teenagers and adolescents.

Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.)

Sadly, after initially announcing that his administration would prohibit most forms of flavored vaping products, President Trump caved to a sustained pressure campaign from Big Tobacco and only instituted a partial ban. To fill the void left by the Trump administration’s failure, it is now up to states across the country and leaders in Congress to get the job done. Once again, Maryland can lead the way.

During this legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly has an opportunity to follow through on what the Trump Administration failed to do – ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products. A bill led by Del. Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County would prevent Big Tobacco from continuing to target Maryland teenagers with fruit- and candy- flavored products. A companion bill in the Maryland Senate also enjoys strong support.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act (H.R. 2339), a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, and would raise the purchasing age for tobacco to 21. The U.S. House of Representatives also has held a series of oversight hearings – including one hearing featuring representatives from the five leading e-cigarette manufacturers – to raise awareness about the youth vaping crisis and to hold Big Tobacco to account.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D). File photo

In tackling the youth vaping crisis, we face the same wealthy, entrenched special interests that misled Americans about the addictive nature of nicotine and the deadly effects of cigarettes, for decades. This time around, e-cigarette manufacturers and their Big Tobacco allies have mobilized in similar fashion – peddling mistruths, leveraging large campaign contributions and deploying armies of lobbyists across 48 states, including Maryland, to undermine public health efforts that would deter vaping among our youth.

That’s why it’s critical for us to join forces at all levels of government in order to combat this grave public health crisis. We cannot surrender to Big Tobacco and allow another generation of Americans to become addicted to harmful, life-altering nicotine products.

 JOHN P. SARBANES AND BRIAN E. FROSH

John Sarbanes, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where his work has included oversight of big tobacco companies and the Trump administration.

Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, is the attorney general of Maryland and has sponsored legislation banning the sale of flavored tobacco products in Maryland.