With their neon-colored packaging, street-art stylings, and names like “Cloud Nurdz” and “PB+Jam,” they may look like ham-fisted ways of luring children to use tobacco.
To public health advocates, however, the threats posed by electronic cigarette flavorings are all too real. And they want the products banned from Maryland stores and shelves.
“There are over 15,000 flavors, including mint or menthol, Gummy Bear, cotton candy and more,” said Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City). “We know that these flavors target kids. They lure them into this lifelong struggle of addiction.”
Washington and Del. Jazz M. Lewis (D-Prince George’s) are sponsoring legislation that would ban liquid additives intended for use in e-cigarettes as well as a longtime industry staple, menthol cigarettes.
Speaking alongside the lawmakers at a virtual news conference on Monday, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said flavored cigarettes and candy-tasting vaping additives are “a rapidly-spreading and dangerous public health problem.”
“These products are extremely addictive,” he said. “These flavors mask the bitterness and children become addicted really fast.”
Bruce C. Bereano, the lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, said the proposed legislation — House Bill 134 and Senate Bill 177 — is unnecessary because sales to persons under 21 are already illegal.
“The argument about the children is an absolute Trojan Horse and really has no merit whatsoever,” he said. “The state of Maryland has already banned these products” for people who are under-age.
“What government has failed to do is enforce the law,” he added. “What these laws are going to impact is adults.”
A handful of states have restricted sales of flavored additives and menthol cigarettes, including Massachusetts, which enacted the broadest such measure in 2019.
According to data compiled by an anti-tax group, the state’s law, which took effect last summer, led to an immediate drop in revenue because consumers started buying flavored tobacco in neighboring states.
Bereano predicted a similar phenomenon in Maryland. “Let’s get real,” he said. “You’re trying to take out a whole line of products for adults.”
Some stores that sell flavored additives in Maryland play up their products in remarkably unvarnished ways.
“This cold weather makes these dessert juices taste even better!” read a Facebook post by Towson Vaporium. “Come in and try the SadBoy line and taste a nice cookie flavor every hit.”
The text appeared alongside a photo showing a variety of “cookie”-flavored products, including Strawberry Jam Cookie, Key Lime Cookie and Butter Cookie.
Another post touted the “@cloudnurdz” line of additives. “Lineup coming strong with some fantastic flavors! Try the Peach Blue raspberry, Watermelon Apple, or the Strawberry Lemon today!”
The owner of the Vaporium chain did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called vaping among high school students “an epidemic.”
Increasingly, middle school students are using it in large numbers as well, Frosh said.
“You may ask: Why are so many kids vaping? The answer is: Because the companies are targeting them,” he said. “They’re using advertising campaigns… that have pictures of models. They have pictures of cool people who are vaping. It’s just predatory. And not surprisingly kids fall for it.”
The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on SB 177 on Thursday. The House Economic Matters hearing will take public comment on Feb. 10.
A similar measure passed the House last year on a largely party-line vote, 98-35. It died in the Senate when the legislative session was cut short due to the pandemic.
Lewis said the industry has long marketed menthol cigarettes to communities of color with “hip” advertising that cast the products’ “coolness.” He called the practice of offering promotions and coupons in low-income neighborhoods “immoral.”
Added Washington: “Addiction to flavored tobacco and the targeting of Black and Brown communities in the state of Maryland is one of those chronic crimes against our humanity that we need to change.”