A local legislator is taking steps to combat what she calls "an alarming and urgent healthcare crisis” – especially among young people.
Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, said she is introducing legislation to raise the legal age to purchase vaping and tobacco products to 21.
Toledo said Florida has over 160,000 high school students currently able to purchase these products and cutting off their ability to do so will go a long way.
“This is about saving lives, plain and simple,” Toledo said during a news conference Thursday at Tampa General Hospital. “It’s about protecting our children.”
Toledo, a mother of five, also said the bill would ban the use of flavorings in vaping products, like bubble gum and cotton candy, “so they can no longer target our children.”
Toledo’s announcement comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday that his administration will push for a similar ban on flavored products, and an outbreak of serious lung illnesses – and six deaths -- tied to vaping.
“Vaping deaths have been reported around the country,” Toledo said, “and it’s only a matter of time before it hits Tampa Bay.”
Dr. David Wein, medical director in the Tampa General Hospital emergency department, cited some startling statistics while offering his support to Toledo's plan:
- Since 2014, e-cigarettes have become the most commonly used smoking product in the country
- 1 in 5 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days in 2018, up from 1.5 percent during that time frame in 2011
- 5 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days in 2018, up from 0.6 percent in 2011
- Combined e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has grown from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018.
“Through many efforts over the decades, we were able to decrease tobacco use amongst teenagers,” Wein said. “Unfortunately the introduction of nicotine to our children through e-cigarettes reverses much of this hard work.”
Wein said the health effects of vaping are "challenging to characterize," but they expect to see more diagnoses involving these new pulmonary illnesses.
“We don’t know what all of the long-term effects are,” Wein said. “It is a relatively new product in spite of its widespread use.”
Toledo said it’s important to educate parents, as well as children, about the health effects of vaping.
“We get several calls from very frustrated parents that really don’t know the dangers of vaping,” Toledo said.
Ashlynn NesSmith, 16, started vaping two years ago. Her mother, Erin NesSmith, said her daughter's e-cigarette use eventually resulted in poor grades, mood changes, and as many as 60 seizures a day.
As a result, the Sarasota family had to pull Ashlynn out of school her sophomore year and then travel across the country to see top neurologists.
“No one could figure it out, she was such an odd case,” NesSmith said.
“Once the FDA announced that they were finding other teens with vaping and seizures linked, a big light bulb went off.”
Erin NesSmith, a former cigarette smoker, said she is filing a federal class-action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul and tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris “to stop them from addicting another generation of kids.”
Ashlynn shared a message for her peers when it comes to vaping: “I've been through it all. It's not worth it to ruin a possible life or your life.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia have set a minimum age of 21 to buy vaping products and another eight are expected to follow suit by 2021. The U.S. Senate introduced a bill in May to raise the age limit to 21 at the federal level as well.