East Bay congressman proposes temporary nationwide e-cigarette ban, hosts town hall

East Bay Congressman Mark DeSaulnier held a town hall at Concord High School Thursday evening, updating his constituents about legislative actions and issues, including a new bill he has proposed that would put a temporary nationwide ban on e-cigarette sales. 

"Ours is a ban until the FDA gets through their analysis of what risks there are, how safe they are and the issues we've had with people getting permanent lung and dying from using their products," said Rep. DeSaulnier.

The proposal comes as the San Francisco-based vaping company Juul announced it is withdrawing its mint-flavored products from the market in response to a survey published Nov. 5th in the Journal of the American Medical Association which showed a big increase in youth vaping. The survey showed about 27% of high school students and 10% of middle school students reported they use e-cigarettes, with mint and fruit flavors being particularly popular.

Vaping products have become big business. At one Concord shop Discount Cigars and Cigarettes, the manager Jamal Jahid says he's seen big demand from customers who see it as an alternative to traditional tobacco.

"Juul's brand is very popular, especially the mint. I have lots of customers, said Jahid, who says the law prohibits sales to those under 21 years of age. 

Still, minors have found ways to access the vaping products. 

In a statement Thursday, Juul Labs' CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said, “we must reset the vapor category in the U.S. and earn the trust of society by working cooperatively with regulators, Attorneys General, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use."

But even with Juul pulling mint and other flavored products, other companies have jumped into the market with mint and fruit flavored vaping pods such as mango, grape, strawberry, blueberry, and melon.

"Other companies they made it exactly like Juul, they copy I think," said Jahid.

Congressman DeSaulnier says that is why he feels a nationwide temporary ban on e-cigarette sales is important.

"This isn't directed just at Juul. This is directed at all of the products," said DeSaulnier.

Some high school students attending the town hall say they do worry because a lot of other classmates are vaping.

"Probably like half the people I know or are like friends with at least vape frequently." said Ethan Michon, a senior at Acalanes High School in Lafayette.

Michon and his friends say they worry that just eliminating flavors or vaping products won't address the bigger issue of teen nicotine use.

"I feel like it's a good start to start trying to ban vapes, but I feel like it's gone too far in at this point and a lot of people are very, really addicted to it," said Jimmy Harrington, another Acalanes High School senior.

"If you ban vapes you kind of make the only legal alternative cigarettes, which I think are worse than vapes, you know," said Gavin Jones, also an Acalanes High School senior.

The youth survey indicated an estimated 4.1 million high-school students and 1.2 million middle-school students are using e-cigarettes, but researchers say tht only covered public and private school students and doesn't include youth who are home-schooled or not attending schools.