Durbin, Lightfoot move to snuff out vaping

Senator cheers Trump for ban on flavored products, turns to educating students

Sen. Dick Durbin and Mayor Lori Lightfoot lay out their plans to attack the vaping industry at a Chicago news conference on Monday. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Sen. Dick Durbin and Mayor Lori Lightfoot lay out their plans to attack the vaping industry at a Chicago news conference on Monday. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The state’s senior U.S. senator and the mayor of Chicago joined in an attack on e-cigarettes and vaping devices like JUUL Monday as the federal government moved to ban sales of flavored tobacco-like products.

At a news conference at Crane Medical Preparatory High School, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin dismissed the vaping industry’s attempts to sell e-cigarettes as a “safe” alternative to smoking, saying, “It turns out it’s a killer.” He pointed to the six deaths and 400 people recently hospitalized nationally who were vaping, and also cited statistics showing that 11 percent of high-school students were vaping two years ago, rising to 20 percent last year and 27 percent now — more than one in four.

Durbin said surveys showed that 10 percent of middle-school students were also vaping, “and I’m afraid it’s even reaching to lower ages.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that use of vaping devices is “surging” and “threatening to get another generation completely and utterly hooked on nicotine,” adding, “We will not stand idly by as flavored tobaccos become young people’s most common path to addiction.”

“Vaping is a growing menace to our students,” said Janice Jackson, head of Chicago Public Schools.

JUUL has touted its vaping devices as a way for smokers to cut down on smoking on the way to quitting entirely, but Durbin dismissed that. “That has never been proven,” he said. “It’s a marketing technique.”

Lightfoot added that they were out to “attack this notion this is a safe alternative to smoking.”

“I’ve seen this movie before,” Durbin said. “Big tobacco said exactly the same thing,” expressing innocence about getting youngsters to smoke, while marketing to children through ad campaigns featuring Joe Camel and the Marlboro man. He charged that tobacco-like vaping products flavored to taste like bubblegum, fruits, or even gummy bears are not intended for middle-aged smokers trying to quit, but to entice new smokers.

“It is as phony as it comes,” Durbin said. “This vaping targets kids and it’s got to come to an end.”

Lightfoot called that marketing “shameful,” adding, “We know this is like the gateway in which children become addicted.” She said CPS has a ban on smoking or vaping “in or near” schools, and she’ll move to expand that to a citywide ban on flavored tobacco products through an upcoming city ordinance. “We must act and we will,” she pledged.

Durbin and U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg have previously drawn attention to the vaping industry’s marketing to teenagers.

“America’s children are the unwitting guinea pigs and victims of this unregulated industry,” said Principal Anna Pavichevich of Amundsen High School on Chicago’s North Side. She warned that most vaping devices are “virtually invisible in metal detectors and X-ray scanners” and are hard to find in backpacks, and that vaping fails to set off smoke detectors in school bathrooms and hallways.

For those reasons, Jackson added, CPS was moving toward a campaign not of increased enforcement, but increased education for students to warn them of the dangers of nicotine addiction in any and all forms, while also warning parents on what to look for in monitoring their children. “This really isn’t about policing students,” she said. “It’s about raising awareness about the dangers of vaping so they’ll choose not to do it in the first place.

“Our youth are not stupid,” she added. “They’re just ignorant of the dangers.”

Durbin praised the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for moving last week to ban all non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, but he also pointed to how President Trump had shown a wavering commitment to actually acting on the issue. Even so, he said he expected the FDA ban to take effect within 30 days.