For the past seven years, New Jersey has seen a dramatic increase among middle and high school students in the use of e-cigarettes.

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ-06) says that's mainly because they believe e-cigs are a lot less dangerous, don't have nicotine or cause nicotine addiction.

Speaking last week at J.P. Stevens High School in Edison, Pallone noted the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use by high school students, and a 48 percent increase among middle school students from 2017 to 2018.

In New Jersey, an estimated 3000 kids under the age of 18 become smokers every year. It is also estimated that 143,000 youth under the age of 18 in the Garden State will eventually die prematurely from tobacco use.

This is a particular problem among black middle and high school students in New Jersey, Pallone said. The marketing of the menthol e-cigarettes is a problem too, he said. Most of the black kids who have started to vape use a menthol brand, he said.

Pallone's recently introduced Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019 includes a number of provisions he hopes will curb the rise of youth tobacco use. The idea is to extend advertising bans and age restrictions that exist for cigarettes to e-cigarettes and other tobacco products such as hookah and cigars.

The act also prohibits tobacco flavors including menthol, which makes the tobacco more appealing.

It directs the FDA to issue regulations that prohibit non-face-to-face sales. That means a person would not be able to buy tobacco products in a machine or over the internet.

It gives the Federal Trade Commission authority to prohibit advertising or marketing of e-cigarette products to people under the age of 21. The act also provides the FDA with authority to collect user fees from all classes of tobacco products, including e-cigs, and instructs the FDA to issue a final rule on the regulation of products containing synthetic nicotine or nicotine that is not made or derived from tobacco.

"The idea is make it clear that e-cigarettes are dangerous, that they contain nicotine, that you can't market them to kids, that students under 21 wouldn't be able to purchase them," Pallone said.

Pallone's bill has widespread support from public health advocates including the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Action Network, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.

Pallone said there will hopefully be a hearing in May and he'll try to move the bill, which he believes is bipartisan.

"We cannot afford to wait -- we are on the cusp of losing an entirely new generation to a lifetime of nicotine addiction," Pallone said

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