Flavored tobacco companies are rolling out products that appeal to teens, and could allow them to sneak the unhealthy habit past parents and teachers.
E-cigarettes, also called vaporizers, are hitting shelves disguised as candy sticks and pens. One particularly popular device called the Juul looks a lot like a flash drive.
That’s why the California Department of Public Health is warning parents about the trend. They’re hoping to cut down on the number of teens who vape, which experts say can be a gateway to addiction.
“They like the taste, but they also believe that these products are harmless and they don’t have health risks and they’re not addictive,” said April Roeseler, chief of the department’s California Tobacco Control Program.
Studies show that nicotine can negatively impact a teen’s prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for attention.
Four out of five young people who try tobacco start with a flavored product, according to a study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Juul, the company that produces the flash drive variety of vaporizer, said it’s making every effort to keep its product out of the hands of kids.
“We have reached out to hundreds of schools, school districts, faith-based organizations and substance abuse prevention agencies – and counting – to initiate local partnerships for educating parents, educators and youth on the risks of our product,” their website states. “We are committed to providing intervention and prevention curricula for teaching students in grades six through twelve.”
It’s not just about the devices — the flavor of the juice that goes inside the vaporizers is a big draw for teens. A quick search online reveals a huge spectrum of flavors, from fruity varieties like berry blast and lemon twist to more exotic mixtures like “unicorn poop” and “mermaid tears.”
In 2009, the FDA banned all flavors except menthol from cigarettes.
“But flavors still exist in smokeless chew tobacco, little cigars, hookah tobacco, and then there’s just been this explosion in electronic smoking devices,” Roeseler said. “The growth in flavors is just phenomenal.”
California’s new campaign helps parents spot kids who are vaping. If they seem especially thirsty, or if their bedrooms smell artificially sweet, those can be red flags. Some flavored tobacco products cause nosebleeds.
Some California cities and counties have banned the sale of flavored tobacco altogether. Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched a “large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz” to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, according to a press release.
Federal law prohibits the sale of tobacco to minors.The FDA has inspected nearly one million establishments that sell tobacco products and issued roughly 70,000 warning letters to retailers, according to the release.