Since 2015, I have been sounding the alarm about electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and the harmful effects this product can have on consumers. That year, I authored and passed Senate Bill 97, which prohibited any person under 18 years of age from buying, possessing, accepting or consuming an e-cigarette. My intent for passing SB 97, was to protect our youth from access to vaping products that we knew had nicotine, a highly-addictive chemical that poses health risks to youth. It was also to protect users from the unknown harmful effects of a new and experimental product.

On Friday, Robert R. Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported the first death related to a severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarette or vaping devices. In his statement, Dr. Redfield stated, "Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms - including flavoring, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents." This unfortunate death is proof that e-cigarettes are not a safe alternative to regular cigarettes.

This session, with the passage of Senate Bill 21 by Senator Joan Huffman, which I co-authored, the Texas Legislature went a step further by increasing the age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in Texas from 18 to 21. This new law takes effect on September 1, 2019. According to studies, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. By increasing the age to 21, we hope to have a positive impact on public health by preventing young people from ever beginning to smoke.

While some improvements have been made, we must do more, such as protecting our youth from the enticing flavors of vaping products. Research has shown that flavors play a huge role in the use of e-cigarettes by youth and that the flavors themselves may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the 2018 Texas Youth Tobacco Survey published by the Texas Department of State Health Services, 13% of youth used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 18.9% of high school students and 6.0% of middle school students.

With the first death related to vaping, more than 200 reported cases of severe breathing illnesses, and Director Redfield's warning that "e-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products," we, as a society, need to make a stronger effort to educate our community about the dangers of e-cigarettes. I look forward to working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to provide additional resources and support to our school districts, healthcare organizations, youth organizations, and law enforcement in their efforts to reduce the use of e-cigarettes.