Push to protect local teens after CDC ties dozens of lung disease cases to vaping

Push to protect local teens after CDC ties dozens of lung disease cases to vaping

This month, the CDC reported more than 150 cases of severe lung disease, possibly linked to vaping, in 17 states, including Connecticut. One patient died in Illinois. The cases come as Massachusetts doctors, lawmakers and teachers call teen vaping an "epidemic."

Boston 25 News anchor Kerry Kavanaugh talked with a former vaper from Reading to find out how local teens are getting hooked, and sat down with the state Attorney General to learn what's being done to protect teens from the marketing and health risks of e-cigarettes.

"Were you hooked right away?" Kavanaugh asked UMass Lowell Student Matt Murphy.

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"I wasn't hooked right away, but I did seek it out after I used it for the first time," Murphy responded.

Murphy told Kavanaugh he was in high school when he started vaping daily. Eventually he said he bought his very own Juul, one of the largest makers of vaping devices.

"I had a velcro on the bedside table. And I would stick one end to the Juul, one end to the bedside table. Stick it right there, I wouldn't even have to open my eyes, I would get relief,"  Murphy said.

A Centers for Disease Control survey found during the 2017-18 school year, E-cigarette use among high school students rose 78% for high school students and 48% among middle schoolers.

"We see young people who are vaping that never would have picked up a cigarette. But they're picking up e-cigarettes and they're vaping because they, and sometimes their parents, think it's totally harmless," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.

She says her office sounded the alarm more than a year ago, after looking at how vaping companies were marketing their products.

"They create a whole social media platform. They use cartoon characters, figures from pop culture, they actually use flavors that are really styled to be attractive to young people cotton candy, bubble gum…" Healey said.

Healey says companies would advertise across Snapchat and Instagram and even a homework app.

"We immediately took action to shut down retailers and online retailers who were selling to kids under the age of 21," Healey said. The office has been investigating Juul for more than a year.

"The reality is that this is really dangerous for young people," Healey said.

Since e-cigarettes have only been around about a decade, little is known about long-term health effects.

In response to the CDC investigation on lung disease cases, Boston 25 News reached out to the American Vaping Association, a non-profit that says it advocates for 'sensible' vaping regulation.

The AVA issued this statement:

"Vaping products are adults' products, and we support efforts to more vigorously enforce Massachusetts's existing ban on the sale of these products to those under 21.
"In recent years, over three million American adults have switched from smoking to reduced-harm vaping products, with the majority of these switchers using non-tobacco flavors to stay smoke-free. Even with these gains, there remains approximately 36 million adults still smoking in this country, and these adult lives should not be left behind when discussing policy solutions to prevent underage usage.
"We remain confident in the findings made by several state and local health departments linking illegal street vapes containing THC or synthetic drugs to these illnesses. The CDC and FDA have a critical role to play in not just promptly investigating these incidents, but also ensuring that adult smokers know that nicotine vaping products remain a far safer alternative to smoking." - Gregory Conley, President, American Vaping Association

Juul also issued a statement to Boston 25 News after a request for comment on the story was made:

"JUUL Labs exists to help adult smokers switch off combustible cigarettes, which are the leading cause of preventable death and contribute to over 9,000 deaths per year in Massachusetts. We believe our four non-tobacco and non-menthol-based flavored JUUL products are responsibly marketed and play a critical role in switching adult smokers from cigarettes, since certain flavors can help smokers disassociate from the taste of tobacco and the odor of cigarettes -- we see the results in our own behavioral research.
"At the same time, we do not and will never sell flavors which are clearly targeted to youth -- we do not want any non-nicotine users of any age to buy our products. Moreover, we stopped the distribution of our non-tobacco/non-menthol-based flavored pods to all traditional retail stores last year. Currently, we sell these four flavored products only through our e-commerce platform (JUUL.com), where we utilize industry-leading third-party age-verification and restrict bulk purchases to combat unauthorized reselling.
"While we do not believe prohibition of all non-tobacco flavored vapor products for all adults is the right answer, we strongly agree that there is no place for youth-appealing flavors in the marketplace. That is why we would support an outright ban on inappropriate flavors and packaging, such as those that mimic kid candies, foods and drinks. We also support swift government enforcement against any manufacturer that packages or markets its vapor products in a way intended to promote use by youth. We have led, and will continue to lead, the category and support category-wide actions to reverse the trend in youth use, while preserving this unprecedented opportunity for adult smokers, and we will continue to work with Massachusetts policymakers in a transparent and collaborative fashion to achieve that goal." -Ted Kwong, Juul Spokesperson

Matt Murphy says if you're a young person trying to quit, ask your parents for help. That's what ultimately what helped him quit for good.

Two Massachusetts lawmakers have filed legislation to ban all flavored vaping products. You can see Kerry Kavanaugh's interview with those lawmakers here.