Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: LETTER: FDA’s proposal on e-cigs can save Alaska kids

While the headlines out of Washington seem to blare partisanship these days, a major bipartisan victory for public health — and for our kids — is happening right before our eyes.

The Food and Drug Administration earlier this month proposed strict actions that will crack down on the access our kids have to e-cigarettes. Our own Sen. Lisa Murkowski had a huge role in the FDA’s important steps.

Sen. Murkowski has raised this issue tirelessly through letters, phone calls and meetings. She heard stories from kids who were getting addicted to nicotine, and she sent an urgent message to the FDA — do something now or risk turning back the progress that we have made to reduce youth smoking levels to record lows.

Sen. Murkowski was right. The FDA has announced new survey results showing that between 2017 and 2018, current e-cigarette use by high school students increased by an alarming 78 percent and by 48 percent among middle school students. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called it like he saw it — youth e-cigarette use has reached epidemic levels. 

E-cigarettes didn’t become this popular with kids by accident. Tobacco and e-cigarette companies have a long history of developing and selling products in fun-sounding flavors, so it’s no surprise that e-cigarettes come in thousands of kid-friendly flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy and banana cheesecake. These flavors sound more like desserts than tobacco products — and that is exactly why they appeal to kids.

Alarmed last year by the dramatic rise in e-cigarette use by Alaska kids, Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids Act (SAFE Kids Act), which calls for banning flavored tobacco products that are clearly meant to hook kids. The bill imposes strict measures on Juul (the maker of e-cigarettes that are tremendously popular among kids and resemble an innocuous flash drive) and other companies to prevent youths from being able to purchase these products online and in person.

The FDA actions announced, if implemented, will vigorously crack down on manufacturers who are marketing to kids. If these rules go through, it’s a victory for public health.

But the fight isn’t over. There is still a lot of work to do to turn back this epidemic. The FDA has to seek public input on these proposed regulations and then formally implement them. And the road ahead won’t be without obstacles. There will undoubtedly be pushback from lobbyists for the tobacco and e-cigarette industries.

Even with the FDA’s proposed changes in place, e-cigarettes that deliver exceptionally high levels of nicotine will still be available at convenience stores. It will be up to our state and community health leaders to ensure these products aren’t sold to kids.

E-cigarettes may be an option for adults who have already developed an addiction to nicotine, but we cannot stand by and watch a whole new generation become addicted to these harmful toxins.

If you are a parent of a teenager here in Alaska, chances are good that your son or daughter has tried e-cigarettes — or at least known someone who has. You have a stake in ensuring we don’t reverse the progress made in getting youth smoking and nicotine addiction down to the lowest-ever recorded levels.

As we approach the season of thankfulness, I’d like to acknowledge the contributions of elected officials like Sen. Murkowski who are not afraid to take a stand for our kids’ health. While we are not over the finish line on these rules, we are heading in the right direction.

By:  Karen Perdue
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner