A new bill would close a loophole that allows the continued sale of e-cigarettes. TheGrio interviewed one of its sponsors.
It has been more than a year since Congress gave the FDA approval to ban many disposable flavored vape products. But a loophole in the law allows for the continued sale of e-cigarettes. A bill introduced in the U.S. House in March aims to close that loophole. TheGrio’s Marc Lamont Hill sat down with one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Troy Carter; D-La., to talk about the harm disposable vape products pose to teens and others who think they’re safer than regular cigarettes. The following is a transcript of that conversation.
Marc Lamont Hill: In a statement, Imperial Tobacco Canada called for the government to consider adopting a, quote, tobacco harm reduction regulatory strategy. They say this includes promoting vaping as an alternative. Here in the states, one congressman says disposable vapes disproportionately harm Black communities. The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on disposable vapes from China. The FDA issued an import alert on companies such as Elf Bar. Elf Bars are important to the U.S. without being inspected by an American organization. Now, several lawmakers want a complete ban on disposable vapes. Joining me now is Representative Troy Carter Sr. of Louisiana, who is co-sponsoring a bill to ban disposable vapes. Congressman, it is a pleasure to see you. Welcome to theGrio. Talk to me about what’s going on here because there are some people, even lawmakers in Canada, who consider vaping to be a safer alternative to smoking. But it sounds like it’s more complicated than that.
Rep. Troy Carter: Well, the optimum word there is ‘safer,’ and we should not be attempting to achieve safer. We should be looking to achieve safe and healthy. And we know that these vapes are, in many cases, untested. We don’t know the impacts yet of what vapes will do to one’s lungs or particularly to our young people, who are being enticed to have nicotine hidden in fruity flavors, Fruity Pebbles, strawberry, Tutti Frutti, things that are encouraging young people.
Hill: Congressman, just to be clear for our audience. You’re saying we don’t know how bad it could be. That’s true. But we know already that it’s bad. And there’s no mystery that vaping is still unhealthy.
Carter: And that’s exactly right. So they say it’s safer. Well, what’s the barometer to determine safer? We know that these vapes are not good. We don’t know how bad they are because many of them are new and untested. But the reality is they are being exposed to communities of Black and brown and to young people, and they’re being lured in with the promise of a sugary treat. Well, we know that these sugary treats are dangerous. We also know that they’re disproportionately marketed in communities of Black and brown. And we are very concerned about that. And that’s what the Disposable ENDS Product Enforcement Act does. (ENDS is electronic nicotine delivery systems.) It seeks to get agencies to delve in, to enforce, to make sure that we’re regulating and we’re stopping this disproportionate use of a product that we know is unhealthy.
Hill: I’m glad you said that ‘disproportionate’ piece, because, the FDA has ad campaigns about the dangers of vaping. When you look at the campaigns, you see Black, white, red, yellow. You would think that vaping is affecting all communities at an equal rate. But you’re saying we are particularly hurt. We as in Black communities. Why do you say that?
Carter: Well, because if you look at the marketing, if you look at the direct marketing, rather social media direct marketing, it is directly going to demographics that they think are vulnerable, demographics that they think will buy this product. The corner stores that they’re easily accessed by. These are resources that they are using to specifically target. They’re not in suburbia. They’re not going into those communities. They’re directly marketing to young African American, Hispanic, Latino, Hispanics. It is so clear that this effort is directed at a certain demographic. And we know, even with the limited data that we have, we know that it’s unhealthy. Exposing young people to nicotine in any form is unhealthy. Tricking them by having it in some type of sugary flavored that hopes that they get addicted and then later will move on to cigarettes or continue to use vape. These things are disposable, they’re cheap, they’re accessible. It’s like going to, in our day, when we would go to the corner store and get a pack of Now and Laters or blow pops. Well, now they’re going into the neighborhood store and they’re getting this disposable vape that is infused with flavors while disguising and masking the mental and physical health issues that they can perpetrate.
Hill: You talked about the fruity flavors, the Fruity Pebbles-type flavors. You’re right. Elf Bar in particular also uses really bright colors to market. It’s like they clearly are saying we want children, at least in my estimation that’s what it looks like. They also have flavors like fried chicken and pizza, which you could argue is not only targeted to young people but, again, fried chicken-flavored vapes. They target and…
Carter: It certainly feels stereotypical, doesn’t it?
Carter: Exactly that. Here we go again. You know, fried chicken and pizza, right?
Hill: Now how is it not illegal? Isn’t there laws against this already?
Carter: Well, you know what? At a minimum, we certainly know it’s insensitive. We certainly know that it’s disrespectful. We certainly know that we as Black lawmakers and journalists and fathers, as me, should recognize that this is unacceptable. And that’s why we are moving forward with legislation. I’m very proud to be a co-sponsor with my dear friend from Florida, Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who’s an outstanding leader who has really taken this on as the lead author. And we are bolstering her and working closely with her to demonstrate the bipartisan support that we have from both Republican and Democratic sides to come forward and suggest that this is unfair and we’re not going to idly sit back and let them once again, because, you know, when we go back to early use and promotion of tobacco products. It was the same thing. It was the cool camel with the sunglasses and the cigarette or the tough cowboy that promoted the suggestion that if you smoked cigarettes, somehow you’re cool or you’re tough. Well, now it’s a change and we’re saying, hey, have this because it’s tasty and it’s bright and it’s colorful. So it denotes that maybe it’s some type of toy. And in some cases, we’re finding that the use of these products are with kids as young as 8 and 9 years old.
Hill: That is terrifying. You’re right. Advertising and marketing in our community is so smooth sometimes. Like the Kool Jazz Festival went off for so long, I didn’t even associate it with cigarettes for a long time. But they were building up a base. They were targeting our community, using our own culture. I mean, it’s so fascinating to watch how rich they do it. But before we go. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an investigation into Elf Bar. And the federal government has campaigns, of course, on the dangers of vaping. But I don’t want to let my community off the hook. Those are the people who are watching, the parents, the community leaders, the people who just care about children. Is there anything else we can do to change this?
Carter: Yes, we can. We can pay attention to what our children are buying. We can pay attention to what our children have in their book bags. We can pay attention to what our kids are doing with the money that we give them to buy a snack after church or after school. Parents have to play a more aggressive and active role in what their children are doing. We cannot expect industry to look out for our children. Government will fight to make sure that we have regulations that are safe. But parents have a responsibility to watch, to pay attention, because everything that a kid can buy in the store isn’t good for them. Everything that a kid can be exposed to on television isn’t good for them. Every song they listen to, every TV show they watch and everything that they ingest is not necessarily good for them because it’s allowed to be sold in stores. That’s not the platinum standard. The platinum standard of parents paying attention to what’s going on and to watch this unfair, disproportionate marketing that’s going on that negatively impacts our youth.
Hill: Congressman Troy Carter, thank you so much for your work. And thank you so much for joining us here on theGrio.
Learn more about the vaping debate from the clip above, and tune into theGrio with Marc Lamont Hill every weeknight at 7 pm ET on theGrio cable channel.