Calling teen vaping ‘epidemic,’ officials weigh flavor ban
By MATTHEW PERRONE
AP Health Writer
Wednesday, September 12
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials are sounding the alarm about teenage use of e-cigarettes, calling the problem an “epidemic” and ordering manufacturers to reverse the trend or risk having their flavored vaping products pulled from the market.
The warning from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday cited recent data pointing to a sharp rise in underage use of the devices, including Juul, Vuse and others.
It marks a shift in the agency’s tone on e-cigarettes. Since 2017, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has discussed e-cigarettes as a potential tool to ween adult smokers off cigarettes, although that benefit hasn’t been proven.
But Gottlieb said in an address at FDA headquarters that he failed to predict the current “epidemic of addiction” among youth, mainly driven by flavored products.
“The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth and the resulting path to addiction must end,” Gottlieb told agency staffers and reporters.
The FDA said it remains committed to exploring e-cigarettes as a less-harmful alternative for adult smokers, but Gottlieb added “that work can’t come at the expense of kids.”
E-cigarettes are vapor-emitting devices that have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. despite little research on their long-term effects, including whether they are helpful in helping smokers quit. They’re generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes. But health officials have warned nicotine in e-cigarettes is harmful to developing brains.
They typically contain nicotine, and sometimes flavorings like fruit, mint or chocolate.
Health advocates have worried about the popularity of vaping products among kids and the potential impact on smoking rates in the future. A government-commissioned report in January found “substantial evidence” that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try cigarettes.
Gottlieb cited unreleased federal figures that he says will be made public in coming months.
“We didn’t foresee the extent of what’s now become one of our biggest challenges,” he said, in prepared remarks. “Hindsight, and the data that’s now available to us, fully reveal these trends.”
In June, a government survey found teen vaping seemed to be holding steady last year. Some experts were cautious about the results, however. They noted the survey did not ask specifically about Juul, a sleek, heavily-marketed e-cigarette brand that exploded onto the market and accounts for 70 percent of U.S. sales, according to analyst estimates.
“I think it became clear to FDA that if they didn’t get their arms around this issue the use of these products by kids across the nation would undo decades of progress,” said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. His group and several others are suing the FDA over a decision to delay federal review of most e-cigarettes.
Under regulations developed by the Obama administration, manufacturers were supposed to submit most products for review by August 2018. But last year Gottlieb delayed the deadline until 2022, saying both the agency and industry needed more time to prepare.
The decision was criticized by anti-smoking advocates who say e-cigarette makers are targeting kids with candy flavors and marketing that portrays their products as flashy, hand-held gadgets.
Under Wednesday’s announcement, the five largest e-cigarette manufacturers will have 60 days to produce plans to stop underage use of their products. The companies sell Vuse, Blu, Juul, MarkTen XL, and Logic e-cigarette brands, which account for 97 percent of U.S. e-cigarette sales, according to FDA.
If the plans fall short, the FDA could block sales of the products by enforcing a requirement that companies provide detailed design and health data about their products before marketing them. The FDA’s delay on that requirement has allowed the industry to flourish with little oversight. But it’s not clear how quickly the decision could be reversed.
Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog said Juul is the brand “most at risk” from an FDA crackdown and that a potential ban on the company’s products would boost Altria and other cigarette makers that also sell e-cigarettes.
Shares of Big Tobacco companies surged in trading Wednesday. Altria Group Inc. and British American Tobacco Plc had the biggest one-day percentage gain in about a decade.
San Francisco-based Juul said it is working to prevent underage use of its products but added that flavors can help adult smokers quit.
“By working together, we believe we can help adult smokers while preventing access to minors,” the company said in a statement.
The FDA also announced 1,300 warning letters and fines to online and traditional stores that have illegally sold Juul and other e-cigarettes to minors. Regulators said it was the largest coordinated crackdown in the agency’s history.
The FDA is in the process of rolling out a sweeping anti-smoking initiative designed to make it easier for smokers to quit by cutting the nicotine levels in regular cigarettes. As part of that plan, Gottlieb has suggested some smokers could be directed toward alternative products that deliver nicotine without the carcinogens of cigarettes. Those products could include e-cigarettes, though the FDA has not given any company permission to advertise its device as a quit-smoking aid.
On Wednesday, Gottlieb criticized e-cigarette companies’ handling of the underage use problem, saying they approached it as “a public relations challenge rather than seriously considering their legal obligations.”
“I’m here to tell them today that this prior approach is over,” he said.
AP Health Writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report from New York.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
California aims to become carbon-free by 2045. Is that feasible?
September 12, 2018
Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, University of California, Merced
Sarah Kurtz consults with a variety of companies that are working on new clean-energy technologies. Currently, the companies are paying a total of about $100,000 per year for students to do research and learn about the technology. She receives funding from Alta Devices, Envision Digital and NREL.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law mandating that the electricity the state consumes not cause carbon emissions by 2045.
He also issued an executive order that goes even further: It commits California to “achieve carbon neutrality” across the board and not just for power generation by 2045. Together, these steps codify California’s ongoing transition away from relying on fossil fuels for energy. This effort has been ramping up since 2011, when Brown signed another law committing the state to deriving a third of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020 – not including big hydroelectric dams.
Based on more than 30 years of research related to solar energy, by my assessment, California can meet the law’s ambitious goal as long as it continues to implement programs that encourage the rapid expansion of renewable energy in the state.
A growth industry
The new law actually sets multiple targets rather than just one. It commits California to draw half its electricity from renewable sources by 2026, a share that would rise to 60 percent by 2030.
To take the next step, rather than mandating that all power be renewably sourced, state lawmakers established a 100 percent “zero-carbon” goal. They did not define this term, but it is understood as including wind and solar power, big hydropower plants and other sources of electricity that do not generate carbon dioxide.
Utility-scale solar and wind electricity increased from 3 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2017 in California, exceeding prior state targets, largely because solar prices have dropped sharply in recent years.
Being open to a wide range of technologies makes meeting the 2045 target easier and allowed State Senator Kevin de Leon, the original bill’s author, to amass broad support for the bill.
Where things stood in 2017
About 56 percent of the power California generated in 2017 came from sources that don’t emit carbon. That puts it more than halfway toward this new goal by 2045.
However, the Diablo Canyon plant, California’s last nuclear power station, is slated for decommissioning by 2025, and no other reactors are in the works. This closure would eliminate the 8.7 percent of the state’s carbon-free power that came from nuclear energy.
Nearly all of the remaining 44 percent of the state’s electricity is currently generated by burning natural gas, and virtually none comes from coal. Going completely zero-carbon would require phasing out the state’s natural gas power plants.
On top of wind and solar energy, other generation options include geothermal, small nuclear reactors and carbon dioxide sequestration.
One quirk about this legislation is that it deals only with utility-scale power. It would not preclude private electricity-generation facilities such as the diesel generator a farmer might use to pump water. Nor would it count the power generated by a homeowner’s rooftop solar panels.
When the sun shines
One complication is that the state’s mix of energy sources can vary a great deal, even from one hour to the next.
Consider what happened on April 8, 2018, for example. It was a generally sunny and windy Sunday, with relatively low electricity demand. At night, about 40 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources. But around noon that day, more than 80 percent came from renewable sources including large-scale hydropower.
If the electricity generated from these renewable sources is approximately doubled, as I estimate is necessary to meet the 2045 target, the power available in the middle of the day would greatly exceed the demand for electricity at that time.
This challenge shifts throughout the year.
On July 24 and July 25, 2018, Californians were asked to voluntarily use less electricity between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to avoid an outage because of hot weather. Prices spiked by more than a factor of 10, helping to keep demand within the supply.
On those days, renewably sourced electricity never met half of the demand for power.
Due to this degree of variability, relying heavily on renewable energy will require ample energy storage and big investments in grid-based technology.
Today, the expected demand for electricity is balanced by the Independent System Operator, an entity that controls the flow of electricity on the grid and selects the lowest-priced sources of electricity available.
Pumped hydro storage, electricity generated from water pumped to a reservoir, is the state’s most common form of storage today. While limited to locations with large dams, the amount of energy stored this way could be increased in California, as recently proposed for Hoover Dam.
Big lithium ion batteries are becoming more affordable and are now beginning to be deployed on the utility scale. As battery and solar prices drop, it may become attractive to disconnect from the grid and use electricity generated by a solar system and stored by a battery.
Lower battery costs are also spurring the sales of more electric vehicles. Ideally, these vehicles could be charged at times when electricity is plentiful and cheap. By 2045, I believe they could be helping make the grid more stable.
Other options are becoming available. One example is utility-scale compressed air storage, where energy is stored as pressurized air.
And there is growing interest in solar thermal plants, which generate electricity from sunlight’s heat and use high-temperature storage to continue generating electricity after the sun sets.
The University of California Merced and many other wholesale electricity customers are saving money by using thermal storage. They chill water when rates are low and use the chilled water for air conditioning when electricity prices are high.
Because California’s new law does not require that every watt be generated within California’s borders, utilities could keep buying electricity from nearby states, as long as they verify its origins are in keeping with the new law’s requirements.
And because the law does not define “zero-carbon,” it provides flexibility in how the state can meet this new target.
For example, California would allow the continued operation of natural gas plants when their output is coupled with purchase of renewable energy certificates, credits issued for the generation of renewable electricity that may be sold, from a utility that generates solar or wind power.
These credits arise through several kinds of arrangements. Perhaps the most common is through rooftop solar systems. Small-scale solar energy supplied about 5 percent of California’s electricity in 2017. It is likely to grow because of California’s mandate for solar panels on most new homes, starting in 2020.
In assessing whether the goal of going zero-carbon by 2045 is realistic or not, it is worth considering that solar energy has grown for years at a pace that far exceeded projections thanks to technological progress, government policies like California’s new law, market forces and the public’s demand for renewable energy.
The national prison strike is over. Now is the time prisoners are most in danger
September 12, 2018
Heather Ann Thompson
Professor of History and Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan
Heather Ann Thompson has received grant funding from the Art for Justice fund, and the Open Society, and has consulted with the Prison Policy Initiatve.
University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Over the last few weeks men and women across the United States – and even as far away as Nova Scotia, Canada – have protested to demand humane treatment for the incarcerated.
In 2016, when prisoners engaged in similar hunger strikes, sit-ins, and work stoppages, their actions barely registered with the national media. As someone who regularly writes about the history of prisoner protests and prison conditions today, this lack of interest was striking.
This time around, though, prisoner demands to improve the conditions of confinement have captured the attention of reporters everywhere. Coverage can be found in such major newspapers as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Popular magazines such as GQ and Teen Vogue have also published pieces.
All seem to sense that American prisons may well be descending into crisis, so perhaps it is time to start paying attention.
That our institutions of confinement are in a state of emergency is, in fact, not new. When prisoners tried to tell us this when they erupted in 2016, it was perhaps still possible to imagine that the abuses they suffered might soon be addressed by a seemingly robust bipartisan criminal justice reform effort in Washington, D.C.
Today, however, with Donald Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions heading the Department of Justice, it is much harder to conjure up such optimism. News of seven horrific prisoner deaths at Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina last April made it quite clear that corrections officials are still failing to ensure prisoner safety and haven’t made the conditions inside their institutions any less brutal. This time, with politicians so noticeably less vocal about this vital issue, prisoners alone are calling the public to action.
That their determination to be heard is finally striking a chord, is good news for our nation.
Prisons and detention centers exist and operate in the name of the public good. Americans want to believe these institutions make our society safer by upholding the rule of law.
Yet, as those locked up keep telling us in the most painful and graphic detail, these places are barbaric. They do far more harm to society than good. These are places where men, women and children are placed in solitary confinement for periods considered torture by medical experts.
These are places where human beings are fed too little, are denied access to basic medical care, and are raped, abused and even killed.
These are places where children behind bars are increasingly isolated from their parents, and where parents behind bars find it almost impossible to connect with their kids, thanks to companies who charge usurious rates for calls, and push states to allow only “video visitations.” These myriad abuses take place in taxpayer-funded institutions, and can only happen because the public is utterly shut out.
And so, it is indeed positive that the media is finally shining light on what prisoners need in order to survive their time. They need “immediate improvements to conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women,” and also an end to prison slavery as well as real rehabilitation programs.
Prisoners also want to end to severe racial discrimination evident in our nation’s policing practices, laws and sentencing guidelines. And they are calling for the rescinding of 1996’s Prison Litigation Reform Act, which has made it difficult for prisoners to seek legal help.
But what happens next is also critical.
It is when the headlines fade, and prisons once again slip from the public’s consciousness that prisoners are in the most jeopardy.
Consider the brutal aftermath of the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971, when nearly 1,300 men took over that facility in upstate New York to call the nation’s attention to the inhumane conditions inside. As the state moved in to retake the facility, state troopers shot 128 men and killed 39 –prisoners and hostages alike. Countless other men were then tortured.
Or consider the reprisals experienced by prisoners in facilities such as Michigan’s Kinross prison in 2016.
And, of course, there is what the men in South Carolina’s Lee Correctional are enduring even now as you read these words – lockdowns 24/7 in 6×8 cells, insufficient food, and lack of basic and desperately needed medical care.
The fact is that men and women behind bars are in most in danger in the days, weeks and months after they have dared to protest.
It is the responsibility of anyone who has voted for prison construction in their communities to know what happens in those institutions, particularly since this country has locked up more people in the last 40 years than ever before in its history – more than in any other country. We must pay attention to which companies benefit from such a harsh criminal justice system, and recognize the devastatingly high price that certain communities have paid for that same system to exist. And, because it ensnares so many of our most vulnerable citizens, we must insist that those inside be treated lawfully and humanely.
Comment: Holly Lewis logged in via Twitter
I served two years at Dayton Correctional Institute in Ohio. Women were victimized by staff on a regular basis. Either you gave the guards what they wanted (sex) or you were targeted for harassment. I spent 6 months of my two year sentence in the “hole” 23 hour lockdown because a group of us filed charges on a Guard for rape. We were treated horribly for speaking out. The took all of our belongings, were put in the hole, constantly were getting searched by guards and finally were moved to facilities far away from our families where the harassment continued. The Guard plead guilty to a minor charge,served no time and kept his job despite having his DNA. Every woman there learned it was better to keep your mouth shut and allow yourself to be victimized than speak up and be victimized by the whole system. Prisoners in America have no voice until people outside the walls start calling for change they will continue to be victimized by a system that simply does not care about their health and well being.