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Adolescent Addiction Expert Weighs In On Proposed Ban On Flavored E-Cigarette Pods

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Some types of flavored e-cigarettes may soon be coming off the shelves. Yesterday at his resort in Palm Beach, President Trump said his administration would very shortly be announcing a plan to fight underage vaping. He said that would include taking certain flavors off the market for a period of time.

Here to talk about what this might mean is Dr. Sharon Levy. She is a pediatrician and an adolescent addiction expert with Boston Children's Hospital. Dr. Levy, welcome.

SHARON LEVY: Thank you.

KELLY: So do you support this announcement by the Trump administration? Is this a good idea?

LEVY: Well, I think taking most of the flavors off the market is a good idea. I wish it went a little further.

KELLY: Yeah. They're leaving tobacco- and menthol-flavored products on the shelves. Is that what you mean?

LEVY: I - yeah. So first of all, they're leaving tobacco and menthol. So that still may serve as an entry point for kids who use these products.

KELLY: I should note - President Trump actually has not laid out details of this plan, but we have reporting that are starting to give us a sense of what form it might take.

LEVY: Yeah. The other piece of it is that they're leaving the tank products still available. That means that there's another entry point where people can use all kinds of flavors and all kinds of different products, including very dangerous products that are mixed at home.

KELLY: Yeah, let me just explain. There's different ways that you can consume e-cigarettes. There's cartridge-based ones, where you get a cartridge. And this would apply in that case but not to open tank systems, which is, as you were starting to explain, you can mix your own flavors.

LEVY: Yeah, you can. In fact, you can put anything you want in there. And I run a big clinical program for kids with substance use disorders, and we're seeing all kinds of substances come up in drug tests for kids who tell us they're vaping. They largely think that they're vaping either nicotine or marijuana, and it's not uncommon for us to find other substances in their drug tests - things even like fentanyl. So these are really very dangerous products and, in my opinion, should be more strictly regulated.

KELLY: I'm curious what you hear from the kids and teenagers who you work with.

LEVY: So a lot of the kids that I work with tell me that they tried these vaping products because of the flavors in the first place. So again, those flavors are really important. Getting them off the shelves is going to be really important. The actual laws themselves don't really move the needle for kids. Very few kids read the newspapers like their parents do, and so many of them aren't even aware of it.

KELLY: And teenagers are very good at getting around (laughter) - getting access to things they're not supposed to have their hands on. I say that as the mother of two.

LEVY: That is absolutely the case. When they become a little harder to get their hands on, that's when you do see a lot of kids just falling off. Of course, there are kids who are going to hunt down those products just 'cause they really want them. They're going to find a way to get their hands on them. But lots and lots of kids, they don't go that extra step. Laziness in teenagers is not all bad.

KELLY: Last thing to ask, which is - tobacco and vaping companies argue that one of the merits of their products is that they help people who are already smoking to quit. Do you have any concerns that a ban in whatever form the Trump administration pursues may set back that effort?

LEVY: You know, although the vaping companies will tell you - yes, it's absolutely a public health benefit - I think the question is really still out there. We're really just relying on cigarette smoking being such a low bar for health that, you know, anything must be better. But in fact, the data isn't really clear. We really allowed the industry to get ahead of us and to make claims about the health benefits that have not yet been substantiated.

KELLY: That's Dr. Sharon Levy, adolescent addiction expert with Boston Children's Hospital. Dr. Levy, thank you.

LEVY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.