Kathy Wilbur, of Seven Hills Behavior Health, travels with an assortment of e-cigarettes, vaporizers, oils, cigars, cigarillos (small, thin cigars) blunt-wraps and other smoking paraphernalia, although she is no smoker nor does she “vape,” as “smoking” a vaporizer is known. They are all props for her presentations on the new fad, which is rapidly becoming popular among youth.
At a Board of Health meeting in Plympton last Thursday, she and a colleague, Judith Coy Kendall, as well as Sarah McColgan, of the Massachusetts Health Officers Association, presented a variety of products most of us have never noticed sitting out at the convenience store. They allege these are dangerous products marketed to children, and suggested recommendations that the Board of Health could unilaterally instate to regulate them like tobacco products.
Wilbur and Coy Kendall demonstrated a number of items: an expensive, reusable vaporizer with different nicotine oils (the addictive ingredient in tobacco), small, inexpensive cigars and cigarillos (cigars are not taxed as cigarettes and are thus cheaper). Colorful disposable e-cigarettes, like vaporizers, they produce no smoke but pack in the equivalent of 2 ½ cigarettes’ worth of nicotine, and blunt-wraps, tobacco leaves intended to roll cigars with loose leaf tobacco, but apparently, rarely used for that purpose (something illegal usually ends up in them). All were flavored, with exotic tastes such as “Bubble Gum, Swedish Fish, Chocolate Bliss, or Melon.”
Wilbur and Coy Kendall insisted that these were not being marketed to adults and that no adult would choose a flavor such as “Bubble Gum” for a cigar or cigarillo. These items are packaged colorfully and placed at the front counter in displays at eye level. Their explicit conclusion is that these are marketed to children because, as smoking rates plummet, tobacco companies have to find creative ways to get people to buy their products and only children would buy these.
Colleague Sarah McColgan insisted on reducing access by changing laws. She recommended, as many towns in Massachusetts have done, that the town take this matter into their own hands and regulate these items as tobacco products because the state and federal governments are not taking any type of uniform action, yet. She wanted to start first banning “vaping” in public.
She recommended raising the age for all tobacco products to 21, stating that reducing access to the products was key. She had a philosophy of banning hypothetical scenarios before they happened. For example even though Plympton has only two cigarette retailers and one school, many towns ban retailers from operating within 500 feet of a school. McColgan stated that even if a cigarette retailer wasn’t likely to open within 500 feet of a school anytime soon, it could happen, so why not ban it?
She also suggested raising inexpensive products to a minimum price to make them harder for youth to obtain. Other towns have banned any flavored products containing nicotine from places where children go, thereby forcing their sale into smoke-shops specifically intended for purchasing tobacco and related products.
Another recommendation she suggested was bringing several by-laws up to date with state law, such as the “Smoke-Free Workplace” law and vending machine bans, which according to her, with which Plympton was not fully up-to-date with.
But, even these professionals acknowledged that there is very little science that has been conducted on e-cigarettes, vaping, and the like. No study has concluded that second-hand vapor is harmful, and although the documented rate of youth vaping e-cigarettes has gone up (while smoking rates have plummeted overall), there is no study that says only youth purchase these products. Some, anecdotally, have successfully used e-cigarettes to quit actual cigarettes.
And when questioned, they did acknowledge that there must be a balance between banning things to protect youth and adults from themselves and allowing adults to make decisions for themselves, even if harmful.