Pelosi Floor Speech in Support of H.R. 2339, the Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020

February 28, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 2339, the Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2020.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Madam Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding, for his kind words about – calling me a mom, as I – that is the greatest thrill of my life.  Now, grandmother as well.  Thank you.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman Pallone, for your leadership in bringing this legislation to the Floor.  It's so important for our children.

And, to Mr. Richie Neal, thank you for the role that the Ways and Means Committee played in this as well.  I want to acknowledge Mr. Tom Suozzi and the work he did on the tax piece in here.  Thank you, Mr. Suozzi. 

And also Donna Shalala  who knows so much about this subject and as – in so many capacities that she has served our government and our children.  As well as Karen Bass, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

When people ask me what are the three most important issues facing the Congress, now for 30 years or so in Congress, I have always said the same thing: our children, our children, our children.  Their health, their education, the economic security of their families, a safe clean environment in which they can thrive, a world in peace in which they can reach their fulfillment. It's all about the children.  It's all about their future.

Today, I rise to join my colleagues to take urgently needed action to confront the growing youth tobacco crisis which is, in the words of a U.S. Surgeon General, ‘an epidemic.’

This is legislation to protect our children.  And I thank Mr. Pallone and Mr. Neal for their leadership here.

Today, corporations are waging a brazen special interests campaign to addict our children to e-cigarettes.  Last year, more than 5 million middle and high school students were using e-cigarettes, up from 3.6 million just last year and more than 3 million more than two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  Nearly one million children are using e-cigarettes every day.  

Earlier today, we all met Abby, a high school student from Kentucky, and several other students, parents and teachers who shared their stories.  Abby spoke about how she was just a freshman – she is 15 now, but she was just a freshman when her friends offered her an e-cigarette at a high school football game, her first game.

She quickly became addicted and spent birthday money and babysitting cash to pay for e-cigarettes that older friends in high school would buy.  She tried to quit, but headaches and other painful symptoms of withdrawal prevented her.  Only when her supply was cut off was she able to stop.  

Abby said she would never would have tried a traditional cigarette, which she and her peers considered ‘harmful and disgusting.’  But they just did not know the facts about the e-cigarettes, which big tobacco had designed to specifically target and addict millions of young people like her.  

Youth tobacco use is a serious public health crisis that is endangering young people like Abby.  Today, I also met with pediatrician, Dr. Falusi, representing 67,000 pediatricians, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  This is what the doctor said: ‘The teenage brain is still developing, and symptoms of dependence can appear within days of first use.  These products deliver high levels of nicotine, so addiction can happen fast.  Adolescents often have no idea how much nicotine they are getting from each hit.  In the short term, we've seen compromised lung function and asthma exacerbations as well as seizures and respiratory distress.  But we still don't know the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use.  That should alarm us all.’

She went on to say – Dr. Falusi went on to say that ‘pediatricians have seen this addiction in our own patients.  We received frantic calls from parents whose children don't know how to stop using, but we've heard of teens who sleep with the e-cigarettes under their pillow at night because they want to use them as soon as they wake up to vape.’

We also heard from our distinguished colleague, Mr. Ruiz, who will be speaking, so I won't quote him, and Dr. Schrier, Congresswoman from Washington State, a pediatrician, speaking on this subject.

With this bill, we are protecting the health of millions of young people who are at risk from big tobacco's deadly products.  Most importantly, this bill blocks the manufacturing sale of all flavored tobacco products including flavored e-cigarettes.  Studies show that seven out of ten youth users of e-cigarettes do so because they come in flavors like gummy bear and mango.

This ban also covers menthol cigarettes which more than half of youth smokers and seven in ten African American youth smokers smoke.  This bill, therefore, helps ensure justice and reduces health disparities.  As the National Medical Association, Association of African American Doctors, NAACP, National Black Nurses Association and others, including the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Association of Black Cardiologists, Black Women's Health Initiative, as I said, NAACP, National Black Nurses Association, National Medical Association, and so many others have put out this call for action from this Congress: ‘Today, the tobacco industry is using e-cigarettes to hook a new generation with flavors like bubble gum, mango and menthol it’s a public health crisis affecting over five million kids.’

‘Congress,’ it says, ‘end the sale of all flavor tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes.  Support H.R. 2339 to protect our kids.’  The NAACP, the National Black Nurses Association, the National Medical Association, Black Women's Health Imperative, Association of Black Cardiologists, the African American Leadership Council on Anti-Tobacco. And they join scores of other organizations who are representing communities of color and otherwise.  

For decades, big tobacco, again, has – I already read that, but I will say that the bill protects our communities with other strong steps, including prohibiting companies from marketing e-cigarettes to youth under age 21.  Ninety-five percent of adult smokers start before age 21 and [those who] do not begin smoking by their early 20s are unlikely to start.

So, group after group is demanding action.  This legislation will address the urgent e-cigarette epidemic that's undermining the progress made in reducing youth tobacco use.

We had all of the tobacco-free kids there, lined up in their t-shirts.  These little children know better than some of us in this chamber how dangerous these e-cigarettes are to our young children, especially those in middle school, who are so very young and we see evidence of.

Now, let me just say, in our own community in San Francisco, Juul came in with a proposal and they were selling as if this is the way we're going to stop young children from smoking.  We're going to have them smoke e-cigarettes and we're going to do this and that.

It was a total fraudulent campaign.  Some of us just stepped forward and said, this is wrong, but I wish some of you could see the ads that they sent to our homes as if they were the saviors of children instead of the addictors of children, putting them on to path to tobacco use.

So, there's a lot of money involved here from the tobacco industry.  And we have to weigh the equities in favor of children and not in favor of profits for the tobacco industry for a long time to come.

So I urge our colleagues to vote for this legislation.  We cannot stand by while tobacco companies entice new generations of young people and in a lifetime of nicotine addiction and preventable deaths.  Congress must act for young people like Abby and millions of others exposed to the scourge of tobacco.

I urge a strong bipartisan vote.  I thank so many of our Members who have taken the lead on protecting our children, our children, our children, and yield back the balance of my time.