Opinion Columns & Blogs

Nelson, Rubio urged to support safer vaping products, and keeping them out of kids’ hands

AP file photo

There has been an explosion in the popularity of vaping products in the past several years, providing smokers with a less harmful option than cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Studies show that smokers who try vaping are more likely than non-vapers to try quitting, and more likely to stay smoke-free longer. As more and more people are seeking to quit smoking or chewing tobacco in recent years, vaping businesses have grown exponentially with new and improved technology and products every year.

But we’re also seeing more and more headlines about teens using vapor products in the news today, telling me that there are not enough laws preventing them from accessing them. In my store, we ask for identification to verify the age of the customer, and no one under the age of 18 is permitted inside unless accompanied by a legal guardian. I have also refused to sell to adults if I suspect they are buying product for someone under the age of 18. We, and the entire vapor industry, take this seriously.

Rick Bender_Tobacco Free Florida
Richard Bender, owner of Volcano Z vape Lounge in Englewood and member of the Florida Smoke Free Association. Provided photo

So what is the government doing about balancing the demand for less harmful vaping products by adults, and how to keep them out of minors’ grasp? Not much.

Right now, while the Federal Food & Drug Administration has put in place some protections, many of its current regulations are backwards, focused on making it harder for the vaping industry to modernize and make their products safer.

A bipartisan amendment to the FDA budget bill has been introduced, aiming to both update the process for vapor businesses to improve their products, and to expand protections so that minors cannot get them.

Called the Cole-Bishop Amendment, sponsored by Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., will be beneficial to the vapor industry, the customers that rely on their products, and the public health in general. The amendment will require labeling to keep products out of the hands of children, ban advertising in all but adult-only publications, ban self-service displays, like vending machines, require face-to-face sales, and require nicotine content be labeled on all products. Finally, the amendment will update and streamline the FDA approval pathway for vapor products from the current outdated, decades-long retroactive process, to a modernized system based in comprehensive product standards.

Many of my fellow vapor industry workers know firsthand the significant harm traditional tobacco products cause, and we should be doing all we can to promote the use of safer products such as e-cigarettes. A January 2018 study from the National Academies of Sciences found “conclusive evidence that completely substituting e-cigarettes for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes.” The head researcher at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center said: “Old policies need to be supplemented with policies that encourage substituting e-cigarettes for the far more deadly cigarettes… together these policies as well as regulating the content of cigarettes have the potential to drastically reduce the massive harms from smoking cigarettes.”

I urge Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to support the Cole-Bishop Amendment in the FDA budget bill. This amendment is responding to the demand for less harmful alternatives to smoking, to the calls for clarity for the industry, consumers and the public, and to the need to protect our youth from getting vapor products.

Richard Bender is owner of the Volcano Z vape Lounge in Englewood and member of the Florida Smoke Free Association. Bender, an oral cancer survivor, spent 25 years as the premier tobacco education speaker at schools across the country talking about the dangers of smoking and smokeless tobacco, and has worked with professional baseball, testified before congressional sub committees and was the unofficial spokesperson for Tobacco Free Florida.