Why curbs on youth vaping can succeed

The latest U.S. campaign on teen use of e-cigarettes is an example of global efforts to safeguard the innocence of children.

Signage for Juul vaping products is seen on a storefront in New York City.

When world leaders gather this month in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, high on the agenda will be a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The pact has helped focus global attention on ways to safeguard children and their innocence, whether in war zones, sex trafficking, border crossings, or even in front of video games. In Britain, the government has a new initiative to curb youth gambling.

One of the latest efforts is the protection of youth from e-cigarette use, or vaping, which has become an “epidemic” in the United States. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered vaping giant Juul to stop making unproven claims for its products.

“Juul has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth,” said acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless. In recent testimony to Congress, two students told of Juul representatives saying in a school forum that their products are totally safe.

In 2018 e-cigarette use among American high school students was 21%, an increase of 78% over 2017. This rapid increase is the fastest rate ever recorded for an addictive substance, according to a survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

If the rise in youth vaping continues, U.S. health officials say they will take more aggressive action. The FDA has proposed regulations on e-cigarettes that would restrict their sales in most stores. Juul claimed last year that it had stopped marketing its products directly to youth. But the FDA points to subtle messaging or false claims that still draw children to take up the habit.

The agency now says any benefits that e-cigarettes might provide in reducing tobacco use among adults are outweighed by the rise of their use among teens as well as reports of recent deaths attributed to vaping. A number of cities have banned sales of e-cigarettes. This year, Michigan became the first state to ban flavored versions of the product.

This effort in the U.S. has plenty of examples of success in protecting children from harm. Worldwide, for example, the number of girls and boys doing hazardous work is down from two decades ago. Since 2014, a U.N. campaign has freed more than 100,000 child soldiers in conflict zones.

The 1989 treaty on the rights of the child marked a big step for humanity. The pact was the most rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. This global awakening helped compel countries to act quicker when threats to children arise. The outcry over teen vaping in the U.S. and the government’s crackdown show the near-universal presumption of innocence for all children.

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