Photo by Dave Warner – U. S. Senator Chuck Schumer visited Little Falls High and Middle School to discuss legislation to deal with e-cig use.

by Dave Warner

Flanked by public health experts and local officials, and in the midst of a heartbreaking spike in youth e-cigarette use in the Mohawk Valley, and 12 deaths across 10 states, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, stood inside Little Falls High School  today and launched a new two-pronged push to curb the rampant use of flavored nicotine vaporizers and to protect public health across New York State.

Dr. Keith Levatino, Superintendent of the Little Falls School District said that he first heard about the visit on Tuesday night. “He (Senator Schumer) chose this location because of our district being very proactive when it comes to vaping, which stemmed from us starting this process a year and a half ago.”

“We bought our devices for the bathrooms, had presentations, the whole bit. Country-wide though, it’s gotten a whole lot worse since then,” said Levatino.

Schumer has first called on his colleagues in Congress to pass the bipartisan Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids (SAFE Kids) Act, which would enact a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, preventing them from reaching the hands of children and teenagers. Schumer has long fought to crack down on e-cigarette flavors that specifically target children, successfully pushing former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Scott Gottlieb to take action on the dastardly devices, and is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Second, Schumer called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), to launch a coordinated national strategy and awareness campaign on youth e-cigarette use. Schumer argued that together, the two measures would begin the difficult work of ending the youth e-cigarette use epidemic in the Mohawk Valley and across New York State.

“Thanks to the harmful effects of e-cigs, the public health of our youth in the Mohawk Valley and Herkimer County is going up in smoke. Kids are getting hospitalized in some cases, and even worse in others, and it’s time for the feds to step in and attack the issue with all-hands-on-deck and an all-of-the-above approach,” said Senator Schumer.

“That’s why I’m proud to announce a new two-pronged approach to curb youth e-cigarette use by sponsoring legislation to ban kid-friendly flavors that manufacturers use to hook teenagers and calling for a coordinated, national educational campaign and strategy to warn children of the serious dangers of these products. The e-cigarette epidemic is spreading through the Mohawk Valley like wildfire, and it’s high time for the feds to catch up.”

The CDC has reported that youth tobacco use has reached its highest level in years due to an increase in e-cigarette popularity, which has reversed progress on the use of products that contain nicotine. While the overall proportion of high school students using tobacco products fell in recent years, there has been a concerning increase in reported e-cigarette use, which doubled from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent between 2017 and 2018. This means that there were a staggering 1.5 million more youth e-cigarette users in 2018 than in 2017. Last year, the rate of overall tobacco use among high school students jumped from 19.6 percent to 27.1 percent, an increase of 7.5 percent that is largely attributed to e-cigarette use.

Tanner Jaquay, a freshman at Little Falls High School decided to take action on his own and get involved in dealing with the problem. “I joined Reality Check in the fall of 2018 when vaping was becoming a bigger issue in school. As teens, we are always drawn to things we shouldn’t do. When your parents tell you no, you are more likely to do it, or go for it.”

“I just wanted to be educated on this. I wanted to know why this was such a big deal to adults and why everyone seemed to be freaking out about it,” said Jaquay. “I thought it was no different from what our parents and other generations did before us.”

Jaquay said that the more he learned about the health issues surrounding vaping, the more he understood that it was something much different. “This is more serious, more wide-spread and has more fatal consequences. Just one Juul pod has the same amount of nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes,” he said. “There are a lot of kids out there who deserve to know the truth.”

According to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), at least 98 New Yorkers have been hospitalized due to vaporizer use in recent months, with nine of those hospitalizations occurring in the general Central New York region. Furthermore, the CDC has confirmed 12 deaths from e-cigarette use, spread across 10 states. To date, the agency has reported at least 805 cases of lung injury associated with e-cigarette use from 46 states and 1 U.S. territory. Schumer said that these statistics demonstrate a pressing need to address the e-cigarette epidemic with full force.

Schumer said that considering this, the need for a coordinated national strategy and awareness campaign is clear as day. Schumer said that much like e-cigarette manufacturers targeting children at school and summer camps with enticing marketing tactics and flavored products, there should be a concerted effort on behalf of public health agencies to counter these messages with programmatic interventions and widespread dissemination of educational resources. Schumer said that it is of the utmost importance to execute such a strategy and campaign in a timely manner to meet the needs of Mohawk Valley youth who are already addicted to e-cigarettes, as well as prevent others from starting to use the products in the first place.

Levatino said “We’ve taken a proactive stance because it’s in the interest of every student’s health, in Little Falls, throughout our state and obviously, throughout our country. We are very, very excited that this initiative is going on.”

Schumer said “The pod looks a little bit like a USB stick…something you put in your computer. It’s bad for the kids in school, but it’s bad for their health, and sometimes they get so over addicted, they can’t study, and they can’t learn. I had a group of kids from Westchester County who said that this had so taken over their school that I brought them down to meet the Commissioner of the FDA when this was just starting a couple of years ago to convince him that this was really a problem and it helped.”

“I think the Executive Branch, the administration, is on board,” with this he said.

When asked what he would tell a local vape shop that sells products that have less nicotine in them and about how that would affect their business, Schumer answered “You shouldn’t be able to sell bad things to make money, plain and simple. I’m sure they can do many other things but vaping, the consequences and the harm exceeds any benefit.”

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that are designed to resemble traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes contain a mechanism inside the device that heats up liquid nicotine and transforms it into a vapor that users then inhale and exhale. Unlike conventional cigarettes, however, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, a key difference that has led some to deem e-cigarettes safer to smoke. Yet, not all health risks are known, and some studies have highlighted the dangers of e-cigarettes.

You can read more about how the Little Falls School District has put the limelight on vaping here.

Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D. Professor of Medicine and Medicine Director, Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education has written about what the FDA is and is not talking about doing now. You can read that article here.

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