Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire philanthropist and former New York mayor, said Tuesday he would spend $160 million over the next three years in an effort to ban flavored e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
The move comes as American health officials are struggling to control an epidemic of vaping among young people. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more than 450 people had developed severe, mysterious lung illnesses after using e-cigarettes. At least six people have died from the sudden ailments as investigators have issued increasingly dire warnings urging the public to put their vaping devices down.
“E-cigarette companies and the tobacco companies that back them are preying on America’s youth. They are using the same marketing tactics that once lured kids to cigarettes, and the result is an epidemic that is spiraling out of control and putting kids in danger of addiction and serious health problems,” Bloomberg, who has already committed nearly $1 billion to efforts fighting tobacco use, said in a statement. “The federal government has the responsibility to protect children from harm, but it has failed ― so the rest of us are taking action.”
Bloomberg’s initiative, carried out through a partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, aims to fully remove popular flavored vaping products from stores and online. Bloomberg also said he wants vape cartridges to undergo strict review by the Food and Drug Administration and to end marketing practices that target kids.
E-cigarette companies “are making huge investments in nicotine-loaded e-cigarettes and selling them in a rainbow of sweet and fruity flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, mango and mint,” Bloomberg wrote in an editorial in The New York Times on Tuesday alongside Matthew Myers, the head of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “They’re turning millions of young people into addicted customers, all the while insisting that they aren’t targeting kids at all.”
The pair said the money will be used to help at least 20 states and cities pass laws banning all flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.
The effort comes at a troubling time. The use of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed among young people, and researchers are still largely uncertain about how the products could affect users over the long term. Vaping only started becoming popular in 2010, and health officials haven’t had enough time to see what happens to the body under regular use.
Officials at the CDC have warned consumers not to buy any e-cigarette products “off the street,” but said it has yet to pinpoint the substance or cause for the outbreak of illnesses. The American Medical Association this week called vaping “an urgent public health epidemic” and said the public should avoid using any vaping devices until health officials know more.
Officials have also doubled down on efforts to rein in e-cigarette companies amid the health crisis ― especially Juul Labs, which commands about 70% of the American market. The FDA said Monday the company had illegally marketed its products as safer than traditionally cigarettes. The company has come under fire from lawmakers, who accused Juul in a hearing in July of directly targeting kids at schools and summer camp.
Juul has denied those claims, and said it touts its products as a means for traditional smokers to wean themselves off cigarettes.
Some states have already taken steps to rein in the epidemic. Michigan last week became the first state to ban the sale of flavored vape cartridges, and other states, including New York and California, are considering similar measures. San Francisco banned all e-cigarettes in June, the first American city to do so.