The American Lung Association has given New York state a failing grade for its funding of tobacco prevention and control programs.
The association said that grade reflects a lack of spending on efforts to prevent youths from using e-cigarettes.
The number of New York high school students who vape more than doubled between 2014 and 2018, according to the state health department. In a Monroe County study, nearly a third of high schoolers said they’d used e-cigarettes in the past month.
While the state health department pointed to an overall decrease in youth smoking rates as evidence for the success of its anti-tobacco efforts -- down to 5% in 2018 compared to 27% in 2000 -- the lung association said the increase in youth vaping threatens to nullify that success.
Public health researchers have attributed the youth appeal largely to the availability of flavored vape products -- even though the health consequences of their use are still largely unknown.
New York is far from the only state where youth vaping has surged.
“Unfortunately, due to the youth vaping epidemic, our country may have missed a golden opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation,” said Elizabeth Hamlin, the lung association’s advocacy director.
Federal authorities said last year that they planned to implement a sweeping ban on flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to reduce the products’ appeal to minors. That ban never quite materialized, and this month, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced a narrower ban that applied only to certain types of flavored vape products.
Hamlin said without a full-fledged federal ban, New York should act on its own.
“Lawmakers in New York City and the state must pass legislation to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products this year,” Hamlin said. She also called for the state to tax all tobacco products more heavily.
Karen Wilson, the chair of the tobacco consortium at the American Academy of Pediatrics, supported those recommendations.
“Teens who use e-cigarettes are becoming addicted quickly and using these products very frequently -- even more so than kids who use combustive tobacco,” Wilson said.
But to vaping advocates, banning flavors and raising taxes represents a burden for adults who are trying to quit conventional cigarettes. New York's tobacco excise tax is already one of the highest in the U.S.
“It would be a disaster for public health,” said Cheryl Richter, the executive director of the New York State Vapor Association.
Wilson disagreed. “There’s evolving evidence about the health risks of vaping on the lungs, including irreversible lung damage and lung disease,” she said.