© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Connecticut looks again at banning flavored tobacco vape products

no smoking no vaping sign
Mike Mozart

A bill that would ban flavored vaping products is back on the table in Connecticut. It would remove certain e-cigarette and vaping tobacco products that studies say are attractive to teenagers.

A report in January found that nearly a third of Connecticut high schoolers say they use tobacco. In addition, several studies have found that sweet and fruity tobacco flavors, like strawberry, mango and cotton candy, are marketed to younger consumers.

Similar legislation failed in recent years due to the pandemic — when many students were learning from home. But before COVID-19, Connecticut and other states were concerned about young people becoming addicted to flavored tobacco products, especially when the vaping products were purchased on the black market.

On Monday, the state’s public health committee held a public hearing on the legislation. Daniella Arias, a program coordinator at The Hub, which works with substance use prevention counselors in southwest Connecticut, said that even though the number of young people vaping since the beginning of the pandemic has decreased, it’s still a problem in schools.

“Some local prevention councils and police officers have noted that youth are continuing to vape even in schools and on school properties,” Arias said. “They're continuing to do it in the bathrooms. They're skipping lunch and going to the bathroom to vape. So it's still continuing to be a large issue.”

The Hub has a goal to decrease youth vaping by 5% by 2025. Arias said the pandemic could make it hard to reach that goal.

“In our most recent reports, we concluded that there was a slight decrease in vaping itself, but we are associating that due to their pandemic and youth not having access to the vapes,” she said. “But now as we are moving into post pandemic life, we are seeing an increase in youth continuing to vape.”

To help combat children buying flavored vape products, Connecticut raised the age in 2019 to legally purchase tobacco products to age 21, but child advocates warn students still find access to it in schools.

Phoebe Lampos, a high school student in Old Lyme, told the committee that students have found ways to avoid the age restrictions.

“A lot of the time people have older siblings and friends where they get these products from,” Lampos said. “Once these younger students have them from older children, they distribute them in their grades. And then soon it just becomes something in their grade.”

The 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey further found that as many as 13.1% of middle and high school students used flavored vapes in a 30-day period in 2020; in 2021, that figure rose further to 13.9%. More than 40% of surveyed high schoolers reported using e-cigarettes in at least 20 of the last 30 days.

Jessica Lu is a doctoral candidate at Harvard who’s done research regarding the Board of Behavioral Science after San Francisco banned flavor tobacco sales. She said packaging catches children’s eyes.

“When products are flavored, they're also more colorful, and they have the images of the fruit and the flora and the whatnot,” Lui said. “What we found also in that study is that the colors and the images and all that associated with the flavors and the product, those are all appealing to youth.”

She said limiting access, flavor, and restricting flavors are all good ways to prevent children from using these products.

Along with packaging, the placement of these products could also be harmful.

“When you have these products in every gas station, in every convenience store, in grocery stores, in delis right next to candy, that's where the kids are seeing them,” said Cheryl Ritcher, the executive director of New York State Vapor Association. “If the owner or the employee of a gas station has no problem selling this to a kid, they have no problem continuing to sell flavors.”

She recommended the state make these products available only in age-restricted environments like liquor stores or dispensaries.

More on Senate Bill 367:

  • The ban would forbid the sale of flavored vaping products that have nicotine content greater than 35 milligrams per milliliter in Connecticut. 
  • The legislation would require the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to complete compliance checks to make sure businesses follow these standards.
  • Violators would be fined $600 for first offense, $1,500 for second offense and $2,000 for a third offense, as well as the state suspending the business’s dealer registration for at least 30 days. A fourth offense would repeal their registration.
Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.