After a two-year investigation determined that vaping giant Juul engaged in the unconscionable practice of marketing harmful and addictive nicotine products directly to our youth, the company has agreed to pay a whopping $438.5 million in settlements to 34 American states and territories. This outcome is hardly surprising to those of us who have been part of the fight to protect our youth from the dangers of vaping and nicotine addiction.
And while such a massive settlement sends a clear message that bad actors will be held responsible for their actions, it remains infuriating that any industry would so brazenly target our youth and put profit before public health and common decency.
Extensive research illustrates the devastating impact that smoking and vaping have upon the human body and in particular how nicotine harms adolescent brain development through a young person’s early- to mid-20s. It is also well established that if a person can make it past the age of 25 without using nicotine, they are highly unlikely to ever pick up the habit during the rest of their lives. Nevertheless, Juul targeted underage users with free samples, slick social media campaigns, launch parties and ad campaigns filled with young-looking models.
Most tellingly, they also used flavors to make the vaping experience more palatable and to get our kids hooked. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine how cotton candy, bubblegum, cola, and fruit-flavored vapes could be attractive to underage consumers – and how unscrupulous entities could use these alluring flavors as a Trojan horse for the nicotine contained within.
To confront this threat, Nassau County in 2019 passed my bill to ban the advertising of age-restricted products – such as cigarettes, tobacco and vapes – within 1,000 feet of establishments commonly frequented by youth. Later that year, in the face of strenuous opposition from vaping industry special interests, I sponsored, and Nassau County passed, a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products – a measure that was later adopted statewide.
Before that, Nassau County passed a measure that I spearheaded to raise the age for purchasing tobacco products to age 21. Not only were the public health implications profound for our region, it was also a source of great personal satisfaction that I was able to bring a signature effort that was initiated by my predecessor, the late Judy Jacobs, to fruition.
Our sustained pressure has worked. Since 2019, Juul has dropped its advertising in America, pulled fruit and candy flavors from store shelves, and a total ban from the American market is still looming. While recent studies show that adolescent vaping is on the decline, we must remain vigilant for emerging challenges such as the disposable e-cigarettes that are growing in popularity with youth. I remain confident that we will prevail in our efforts to protect public health, and I will never waver in my commitment to our shared mission of keeping our kids nicotine-free for life.
Arnold W. Drucker, of Plainview, has represented the 16th District of the Nassau County Legislature since 2016.