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INDIANAPOLIS — E-cigarette use among the nation’s youth is up 80-percent. Those are the latest numbers from the US Food and Drug Administration, which today proposed changes to federal law in order to crack down on the problem.

Put simply, the new regulations would ban the sale of certain flavors of e-cigarette vapor pods, which University of Indianapolis Kinesiology and Public Health professor Carolyn Runge said vaping companies like “Juul” are marketing specifically to young people as if it were candy or soda.

“The reality is a lot of their actions, their marketing, the results (show) completely spiked use among our adolescents,” Prof. Runge said. “E-cigarette companies also claim to propose helping adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to vaping.” 

The FDA proposal also looks to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes.

Runge said those who vape that claim “they aren’t a smoker, they vape”, are lying to themselves. She said we’re led to believe the white smoke from vaping is water vapor, but according to Runge it’s “actually closer to anti-freeze.”

“It’s not as different as people like to think it is,” said Runge. “You can not heat water with a little watch battery or USB in that small of an environment. Both smoking and vaping are vehicles to get nicotine in the system.”

Which she said is unhealthy no matter how you get it in your body.

The leading maker of e-cigarettes, Juul, vowed on Tuesday to halt most retail sales of flavor products while restricting flavor sales to adults 21 and older on its secure website. The company also announced that it was shutting down some of its social media accounts.

Prof. Runge recommends Indiana lawmakers get on top of the problem by including vaping in a new push by the “Raise It for Health” Coalition to triple the state’s cigarette tax to over $3.00 a pack. The coalition’s push to double the tax in last year’s legislative session was killed by state lawmakers.

“The cigarette tax increase, though long overdue, is only for white wrapped cigarettes,” Runge said. “It does not include brown cigarettes, it does not include cigars, and it certainly does not include vaping. Juul pods cost much less than regular cigarettes and they aren’t even included in cigarette taxes.”

Runge does acknowledge progress in curbing smoking among teenagers. She points to a survey which shows only 8-percent of high school and middle school age children said they smoke traditional cigarettes, which is way down compared to recent years.

But, she said that progress has been counteracted by the 80-percent jump in e-cig use among Hoosier teenagers.

Runge said the state is “way behind” other states like Minnesota, where state law allows cities and towns to dictate cigarette taxes as opposed to a blanket tax for the entire state to abide by.

She said the proposed FDA regulations could be a good first step in cracking down on vaping among young people.

“If it raises public opinion and the public’s voice into the understanding the seriousness of the problem then it can be a good thing,” Runge skeptically said. “If it placates legislators to think they are doing something and feeling like they’ve handled the issue and move on to other issues, the regulations could actually do more harm than good.”

The final say on the proposed regulations lies with Congress and President Trump.

(PHOTO: maurogrigollo/Thinkstock)