Chicago to ban flavored e-cigarettes amidst rise in teen use, illnesses

CHICAGO — As e-cigarette use skyrockets among young people in the U.S., Chicago officials say they're stepping in with a citywide campaign to steer teens away from vaping.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Senator Dick Durbin, and Chicago Public Schools CEO Dr. Janice Jackson announced the new anti-vaping initiatives Monday morning at Crane Medical College Prep on the West Side.

"I am committing today to lead an effort to expand the current ban on sales of flavored e-cigs and flavored tobacco products city-wide," Lightfoot said.

Last week, President Donald Trump met with the head of the Food and Drug Administration and announced the imminent ban on flavored e-cigarette products nationwide.

"You look at the flavors: razzle dazzle, berry gummy bears, unicorn milk... these are designed to appeal to children, and they do," Durbin said.

It could take about 30 days for the ban to take effect, Durbin said, so leaders are turning to other solutions. Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) said he plans to introduce an ordinance banning flavored e-cigarette products in Chicago during Wednesday's City Council meeting.

So far, there have been more than 450 cases of people falling ill due to vaping nationwide, including six deaths. Illinois has 52 confirmed cases of vaping-related illnesses, 12 more under investigation and one death.

Studies show e-cigarette use among teens has risen dramatically over the last two years. More than one-in-four high school students and one-in-10 middle school students are vaping, according to the CDC.

"At my school some of the best students and athletes are vaping," said Amundsen High School Principal Ana Pavlivich.

Senator Durbin said while three percent of adults use e-cigarettes, as many as 20 percent of kids admit to using one.

"We've got to convince students first it's bad idea to vape, their parents it's not a harmless cloud of smoke around their heads; five million high school students across the US are using vaping products," Durbin said.

On Sunday, a letter was sent to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, urging him to take immediate action with a national education and intervention campaign as well.

This week, CPS will begin sending letters home to parents with tips on how to talk to their kids about the risks of vaping and how to identify e-cigarette products that can often be disguised as flash drives, pens and other nondescript items.

JUUL, the primary maker of e-cigarettes, said in a statement Monday the company agrees with action on flavored products, and blames health issues on counterfeit brands made with unknown ingredients.

The company said it stopped selling its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods to retailers in November 2018, but still offers them online to those 21 and older. JUUL denies marketing to children, took down its Facebook and Instagram accounts, and says it will fully comply with local laws and the final FDA policy.

"We strongly agree with the need for aggressive category-wide action on flavored products," the company said. "We will continue to combat youth usage, while supporting reasonable access to vapor products for adults looking to switch from combustible cigarettes.”

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