Joe Camel lives on in rainbow-colored, fruit-flavored “e-hookahs” designed to lure kids into unhealthy habits, a U.S. senator warned in a visit to town.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal invoked Joe, the ‘90s-era cartoon mascot of Camel cigarettes, during a Monday morning press conference at Career high school on Legion Avenue. Blumenthal joined U.S. Rep. Rosa Delauro and other officials to sound the alarm about the dangers of e-hookahs, also known as “vape pipes” or “hookah pens.”
Like Joe Camel, who eventually got run out of the marketing business by regulators and public-health experts, candy-flavored e-hookahs are an attempt to push nicotine products on kids, Blumenthal warned. He said he is experiencing “déjà vu.”
E-hookahs are identical in function to e-cigarettes, devices which deliver vaporized nicotine to users—like cigarettes without the smoke. Despite the similarities, e-hookahs are often marketed differently, not as cigarette substitutes but simply as flavorful novelties. E-hookah marketing also often involves bright colors and flavors like “mango peach paradise” and “vanilla cupcake.”
Children and teenagers tend to view e-hookahs as something different from e-cigarettes—and safer, if not harmless.
You can buy e-hookahs at any age; you don’t have to be 18.
Blumenthal and others argued Monday that e-hookahs are aimed at children, and can hook kids on nicotine. On their own, the devices are bad for kids’ health, and then can also lead to dangerous tobacco products, Blumenthal said.
He and others called upon President Barack Obama to have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implement regulations that would prevent the sale and marketing of e-hookahs to minors.
Staff at Fantasia, a California supplier of e-hookahs, declined to comment. Other e-hookah companies couldn’t be reached for comment.
Many children and teenagers said they consider e-hookahs different from e-cigarettes, Blumenthal said. “They are pitched to kids, luring them into lifetimes of addiction and disease.”
The devices are a “gateway” to tobacco products, Blumenthal said.
Some people advocate e-cigarettes as a way for smokers to wean themselves off of cigarettes, a good alternative because they don’t have the smoke and tar of cigarettes.
Whether e-cigarettes help people stop smoking is debatable, Blumenthal said. “But marketing to kids helps them start.”
Children who use e-cigarettes are six times more likely to go on to cigarettes, Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal called on the president to issue regulations written by the FDA: “All he has to do is pull the trigger.” He said that the regulations’ delay is due to “industry resistance.”
“It’s called ‘regulatory capture,’” he said. “Big tobacco is capturing Washington D.C.”
“We need to have a new education process,” said DeLauro (pictured). Children aren’t aware of the dangers of e-hookah, partly because of the marketing, she said.
“The packaging is just brilliant,” she said. “It really is very slick.”
Benjamin Toll (pictured), head of smoking cessation at Smilow Cancer Hospital, said he advises adults trying to quit smoking to try nicotine patches before using e-cigarettes. But people under 18 should not be touching e-cigarettes, he said. Although they have fewer toxins than cigarettes, any toxins are bad for children.
Will Clark, the Board of Ed’s chief of operations, said e-cigarettes are banned in all New Haven public schools.
“There’s no question that kids are less available to learn when they are not healthy,” he said.
The school board is already working to address health problems like obesity among students, Clark said. “This is just another assault on that population.”