September 27, 2019
Since 2015, I have been sounding the alarm about electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and the harmful effects this product can have on consumers. That year, I authored and passed Senate Bill 97, which prohibited any person under 18 years of age from buying, possessing, accepting or consuming an e-cigarette. My intent for passing SB 97, was to protect our youth from access to vaping products that we knew had nicotine, a highly-addictive chemical that poses health risks to youth.
SB 97 also sought to protect users from the unknown harmful effects of a new and experimental product. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated, e-cigarettes may contain “other harmful substances besides nicotine.” Recently, Robert R. Redfield, Director of the CDC, reported the first death related to a severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarette or vaping devices. In his statement, Dr. Redfield stated, "Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms - including flavoring, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents."
In the weeks since the first vaping death was reported, there have been seven additional vaping-related deaths. Further, there have been over 530 cases of lung injury reported in 38 states, with 54 cases in Texas alone. That number includes 9 cases in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. Sadly, two thirds of the cases nationwide involve persons 18 to 34 years old. This outbreak of avoidable deaths and injuries is proof that e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to regular cigarettes. In fact, the CDC is now recommends that everyone "consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products."
This session, with the passage of Senate Bill 21 by Senator Joan Huffman, which I co-authored, the Texas Legislature went a step further by increasing the age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in Texas from 18 to 21. This new law took effect on September 1, 2019. According to studies, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. By increasing the age to 21, we hope to have a positive impact on public health by preventing young people from ever beginning to smoke.
While this new law should help reduce use by children, we must do more to protect our youth, such as eliminating the enticing flavors of vaping products. Research has shown that flavors play a huge role in the use of e-cigarettes by youth and that the flavors themselves may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the 2018 Texas Youth Tobacco Survey published by the Texas Department of State Health Services, 13% of youth used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 18.9% of high school students and 6.0% of middle school students. Worst yet, preliminary results from a recent national study suggests that vaping use among teenagers has significantly increased in the time period since, with 27.5% of teenagers admitting to vaping in the last 30 days.
Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration is developing a plan for removing flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods from the market. It is unclear when these products will be banned, however, so Texas must make a stronger effort to educate our community about the dangers of e-cigarettes. I look forward to working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to provide additional resources and support to our school districts, healthcare organizations, youth organizations, and law enforcement in their efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes.