Editorials

Anti-vaping ads strike a blow for public health

Bootleg “Hello Kitty” vape pens, customized to look like the popular children’s character and sold on sites like eBay, are just one example of the ways vaping is marketed, officially and unofficially, to kids.
Bootleg “Hello Kitty” vape pens, customized to look like the popular children’s character and sold on sites like eBay, are just one example of the ways vaping is marketed, officially and unofficially, to kids. eBay

Vaping may not be as harmful as conventional smokes, says state Director of Public Health Ron Chapman. “But e-cigarettes are not harmless. They are not safe.”

No kidding. Those candy-flavored lung polluters are full of the sort of carcinogenic junk that would repel consumers if the products didn’t have names like “super fly lemon pie” and optionally customized bootleg “Hello Kitty” equipment:

Benzene. Formaldehyde. Acetaldehyde. Not to mention the stuff that’s merely addictive and a hazard to children, like nicotine.

That’s why voices like Chapman’s are so important. Last week, he announced a new campaign to warn Californians about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other vaping equipment – a move that can’t get underway soon enough for the health of adolescents in this state.

As it is, vaping has surpassed conventional smoking as a teen vice, according to government surveys. And no wonder. Loopholes and legal stall tactics have allowed it to be marketed for years in ways that have long since been banned for tobacco. Meanwhile, thanks to the power of big cigarette companies, which increasingly control the e-cigarette market, ordinary regulatory efforts have hit roadblock after roadblock.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has spent nearly a year now dragging its feet over the latest set of draft rules and comments. Meanwhile, California lawmakers failed last year to impose even a modicum of control over the runaway growth of vaping.

Why? Maybe because tobacco giant Philip Morris spent $1.3 million on California campaigns in 2013, according to the company’s latest filings.

So it’s an uphill battle, and we salute the state lawmakers and public health lobbyists who, this session, have indicated they plan to go back into battle:

▪ Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who is pushing to ban e-cigarettes wherever tobacco is forbidden.

▪ Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, who wants to raise the smoking age to 21, a gambit that, if Leno’s bill passes, could apply to vaping.

▪ The movement to add $2 to the state’s 87-cent-per-pack cigarette tax, led by public health advocacy groups like the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association.

The California Medical Association is backing that last proposal, as is SEIU California, for whom smoking is a workplace issue. Given the great, cloying clouds of nicotine haze that consistently fill vape parlors, maybe secondhand vapor could be viewed as a workplace issue, too.

But given the power of the tobacco lobby and the number of moderates who came to office in the last election, optimists are, at best, cautious. Already, Big Tobacco has wormed its agenda into bills like the well-intentioned measure by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to childproof nicotine vaping cartridges, which can be poisonous to children.

Hill’s bill sounds like a public service, but health advocates say its fine print would effectively carve out a special legal niche for e-cigarettes, apart from other tobacco products, making them harder to include in existing anti-smoking regulations. So for now, we’re betting on Chapman, partly because we recall this state’s great anti-tobacco campaigns of past years. (Remember that smoke-filled conference room with the roundtable full of snickering tobacco executives?)

Chapman is smart to start telling Californians how many toxins are in their e-cigs, but we hope he broadens the effort. We’d love to see some ads taking on the obvious, and despicable, e-cigarette marketing to youths.

Somebody needs to shut down these candy-coated pushers. (Cough) Hello Kitty bootleggers (cough), we’re looking at you.

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