Legal Briefs Podcast: Why this Alabama District Attorney Worked to Restrict Access to Vaping

Contributing Author: Ashley Rich, Alabama District Attorney

Photo: Daniel Becerril/REUTERS

No state is immune to the current vaping epidemic impacting our youth, including Alabama. In Mobile County, three teenagers have been hospitalized so far due to illnesses brought upon by vaping and other e-cigarette use. For one of those teenagers, their illness so severe, they were admitted to the ICU.

As a public official, this public health crisis is both alarming and entirely unacceptable.

The crux of the vaping issue comes from the manufacturing of the product itself. The chemicals used are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and have been linked to lung complications, stunted adolescent brain development, and even cancer. Tweens and teens are easily hooked on the products due to the levels of nicotine, and with appealing flavors like cotton candy and gummy bear, it’s easy for children to get sucked into the marketing and appeal.

In Alabama, we hear stories that echo those playing from inside middle schools and high schools around the country: kids use the e-cigarettes to vape in school bathrooms, between classes, and even right in class. These devices are disguised as USB devices, lipsticks and even asthma inhalers, making them easy to conceal and overlook. The sweet-smelling aroma carries and is hard to detect where it came from. Vaping has penetrated school culture, which as we’ve seen, can have harmful health consequences to those who partake.

With the goal of prevention through education and legislation, we worked with Alabama’s activist community and other concerned public officials in the state legislature on legislation to ban the sale of vaping products to any individual under the age of 19. The bill went even further by banning all flavor options except menthol, tobacco, and mint, and it was signed into law by the Governor in September, the new law went into effect October 1, 2019.

To enforce this, my office will work with local law enforcement to conduct undercover stings to find those vape shops that willingly break the law to sell to minors. For the vape shops that choose to take the risk of selling to those under 19, the consequences will be the same as selling tobacco or alcohol to minors.

This two-year legislative process is just one step of Alabama’s push back against e-cigarettes. While we were fighting for legislation, we also enacted a comprehensive vaping education program in schools to speak directly to children and their parents about the life threatening impacts of vaping. With the new imposed age limit on sales, these conversations were also designed to prevent youth from defying this law.

Why do I feel that this is my responsibility? It rests with the District Attorney to not only enforce the law, but to prevent crime: I hope to prevent kids from being arrested because they have done something illegal AND extremely harmful to their body. Putting unknown harmful chemicals into your body often leads to ingesting other illegal substances as well.

National District Attorneys Association

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The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.

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