Any parent knows the struggle of screentime and trying to wean our children off their Tik Tok addiction. This concern about China’s most popular social media app is apparently not just a household dilemma, it’s become an issue of national security. Unfortunately, Tik Tok’s grip on our young people is nothing compared to the most powerful teen addiction from China. Candy-flavored, disposable nicotine vapes illegally hitting American shores are hooking kids in a new wave of this life-threatening epidemic.
A few years ago, news of the teen vaping epidemic dominated headlines across our country as mango Juuls became parent enemy #1 and rates of vaping use skyrocketed from coast to coast. Reports of fatal lung infections resulting from e-cigarette use led lawmakers to push for legislation banning flavored vapes, and laws were hastily passed in the hopes of protecting young people from deadly addiction.
Despite aggressive efforts by the FDA and policymakers at the federal, state, and local level to combat the problem, the teen vaping epidemic has mutated to escape regulation. Products by companies like Elfbar and Puff Bar, which manufacture flavored disposable vapes, have become the new flavored favorite of teenagers. In 2022, 55% of youth vapers reported using disposables, with Puff Bar owning almost 15% of the market as the top choice for teens.
Greedy opportunists, including unknown thousands of Chinese manufacturers, recognized FDA regulations only banned flavors in cartridge-based vapes. As a result of this loophole, disposable nicotine vapes in kid-friendly flavors have skirted regulation found their way into schools, homes, and teenage pockets. According to some reports, these disposables aren’t just enticing with flavors, they are turbocharged with illegal levels of nicotine to hook kids faster.
The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. In the case of these illegal vapes that is no exception. While their predatory marketing is profiting off the pain of our children, at least Puff Bar is a company with a brand and a product that law enforcement can (try to) identify. The bigger threat is the tsunami of counterfeit and poisonous flavored disposable nicotine vapes from China. In many cases, these products are only a click away with flavors like cherry pomegranate and kiwi passionfruit guava sold on “made in China” websites.
Hyper-addictive, disposable nicotine vapes from China that escape supervision open up a whole world of risk. Unfortunately, addiction is the least that parents have to worry about. Products manufactured by established companies in the United States undergo some level of supervision to ensure safety standards are met. But once you enter the illicit market where products smuggled from China, anything can end up in the lungs of a child.
Over the past few months, there have been reports of fentanyl-laced vapes poisoning teenagers and students even overdosing from tainted vaping products in high schools. Recently lawmakers have begun paying attention. In February, Florida Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormack announced she is taking action to protect our children by introducing new legislation to prompt urgent FDA action. Ohio Congresswoman Shontel Brown among others has also raised her voice to protect our kids. While many courageous leaders are stepping up, we must move quickly to help our children.
These days it’s hard enough to be the parent of a teenager and it’s harder to keep a vigilant eye on them and keep them safe. As hard as it is, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to address the devastating impact right now. With shadowy criminal operations trying to entice and addict our children and infect their minds with poisonous vapes we need the help of our elected officials more than ever.
My parents were exposed to nicotine as teenagers and suffered from lifelong addiction that ultimately led to their nicotine-related deaths, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of their children and grandchildren. In 2023, let’s protect our children from this same fate. It’s time to step up and close the loophole on flavored, disposable vapes and give our law enforcement the tools to get them off the shelves so we can keep America’s next generation happy and healthy.
Marilyn L. Hemingway is CEO & President of the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce