It is not enough to merely regulate or ban flavors in e-cigs. Maybe we should follow the lead of Beverly Hills, Cal., and just outright ban sale of all tobacco products.
Our goal, of course, should be zero deaths from vaping, use of which is exploding among our youth. Since the very first death in Illinois, on Aug. 23, there have been more deaths and hundreds of reported illnesses nationwide. While the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA are looking for the cause, we already know that tobacco use, particularly cigarettes, causes far more disease and death every day.
Tobacco kills nearly half a million Americans and costs our economy over $500 billion each year. In Illinois, 18,300 adults die each year from tobacco use. An estimated 230,000 kids now under 18 in Illinois will ultimately die prematurely from smoking. Tobacco kills more people than vaping, alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined – and thousands more die from other tobacco-related causes – such as fires caused by smoking and smokeless tobacco use. And now we have an explosion of e-cigs/vaping – created to addict another generation to profit big corporations.
Let’s get serious. If tomorrow a new consumer product should appear, one that addresses no personal need and is both highly addictive and deadly when used as intended, it is inconceivable that we would allow it in most every gas station, corner store, super market, and even many pharmacies. But we have deadly tobacco products on display for easy purchase in all those places. Do we allow sale of lead-based paint any more?
Maybe, instead of merely limiting access to gummy bear- and cotton-candy-flavored vaping products, we might seriously consider doing here what Beverly Hills did in June by voting to end all tobacco sales from the health conscious community by Jan. 2, 2021. Other California cities are deliberating an end to tobacco sales, without criminalizing possession or use of tobacco.
It is no longer a question of freedom of choice. For most tobacco users had that choice taken from them when they became addicted. Moreover, polls consistently show that more than two-thirds of smokers wish they could quit, wish they had never started, and are desperate that their children not start. A recent national ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) National Survey via Qualtrics found that 67% of never smokers, 57% of former smokers, and 53% of current smokers support a government policy to ban/end/phase out sale of tobacco products.
The tobacco epidemic is caused by the tobacco industry, not by smokers. Producing, marketing and distributing deadly, addictive products is unconscionable. But these countless deaths are not only on them, it is on us for not doing more. Illinois does have high tobacco taxes. We have banned smoking at work and in public places. Our state recently passed “Tobacco 21,” following the lead of Evanston, which raised the purchase age to 21 in 2014. But we are finding that even these evidence-based measures are not enough to end the plague of tobacco use and deaths in Illinois. We think that Beverly Hills is on to something.
Of course, our goal should be zero deaths from vaping but why not remove all tobacco products for sale in Evanston, a proud community that aspires to be the most livable, healthiest city in America? We could again lead the state in progressive public health policy.
Dr. Zeigler is Chair of the Evanston Health Advisory Council and Adjunct Associate Professor, UIC School of Public Health.