I’m a parent. Like most parents, I have big responsibilities and even bigger worries. Most of us don’t typically publish political opinion pieces about this part of their lives, but I don’t have the luxury of silence on an issue that is harming my daughter and too many of our daughters and sons.
The issue is the epidemic of vaping flavored-nicotine products that has invaded our schools and our homes. My daughter, Maria, is a responsible teen and a good student. But she hasn’t been able to avoid the lure of vaping candy-flavored nicotine, which simultaneously tastes great and is rewiring her brain toward further addiction to the product.
I know I’m not alone in this fight. A recent poll by a respected Colorado-based pollster tells me that 80% of Coloradans understand that the use of flavored-nicotine products among our kids is a serious issue. An additional 60% of those polled said they would vote to stop the sale of flavored nicotine products if they were given the chance. State lawmakers currently considering this issue would do well to listen to the majority of their constituents living across our state, not just the monied voices of Big Tobacco inside the Capitol building.
My family’s challenges with flavored-nicotine products began the same way they do for most. My daughter was given a vape pen full of strawberry banana-flavored nicotine. It looked like mascara. With no smell and small, easily-hidden packaging that doesn’t look like what it is, it took my partner and I a while to figure out what was going on. It was an off-handed comment from one of my daughter’s friends on a social media account we monitor that made the situation clear.
Maria is the one-in-four teens that report using e-cigarettes in Colorado. She is the eight-in-10 kids that report starting with flavored products. We can only hope that we caught her use early enough to ensure it stops. There is no guarantee that the high potency nicotine — the same as a pack of cigarettes in each vape pod — hasn’t already begun to rewire her brain. She has promised us she won’t use flavored nicotine again, but will she be able to keep that promise?
The truly terrifying piece of this as a parent is that our kids simply aren’t making the connection between these sweet smells and candy flavors and the real damage they are doing to their heart, lungs, vascular system and brain. My daughter attends a charter school that places health and wellness at the center of its focus, and still, she and her classmates think these highly-addictive substances are harmless.
They think this because the tobacco industry has taken great care to ensure they do. The packaging is colorful. The taste is cotton candy. If people aren’t addicted to nicotine by the time they are 18, the odds are three-to-one they ever will be. If they make it to 24, those odds stretch to 20-to-one. These are facts written by a tobacco company executive 30 years ago. They need to hook our kids to save their industry.
This is not an issue we can give lawmakers a pass on. There is not a compromise to be made here. They must vote to stop the sale of all flavored tobacco and nicotine products. Businesses legitimately selling tobacco and nicotine products to adults will continue to do that. We know that only about 5% of the flavored products sold are used by adults. Businesses focused on selling poison disguised as candy to our kids must be made to stop.
Lawmakers should leave the state Capitol building and talk to parents like me. They would hear a very different story than the one told by Big Tobacco. And they would side with us by passing HB22 1064 so that our children have a better chance at a life free from addiction and poor health.
Trace Faust lives in Westminster.