The head of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, Chris Alexander, triumphantly raised a tin of watermelon-flavored candies above the audience when New York’s first legalized recreational marijuana shop opened last month.
He revealed another purchase outside the Manhattan dispensary: a jar of dried cannabis flowers from the Banana Runtz strain, which some connoisseurs claim has notes of rich, delicious banana and sour candy.
The cabinets of the Housing Works-run store were stacked high with vape cartridges that featured flavors like cereal milk, pineapple and grapefruit, all written in rainbow bubble print.
Health advocates have criticized the tobacco industry for years for selling addictive nicotine products to kids. As a result, several states and towns, including New York, have banned flavoured tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
As cannabis dispensaries increase across the nation, the same worries are rising about the flavoring and marketing of cannabis, which some fear may tempt kids to consume items with names like peach dream, crazy mango, and loud lemon.
According to Katherine Keyes, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University who has written extensively about the rise in marijuana use among young people, We could perhaps gain knowledge from the nicotine space, and I definitely would actively support that we should place similar complaint on cannabis products in terms of their appeal to youth.
She remarked that it’s almost comical how youth-oriented a lot of the packaging and the items are if you browse a cannabis store at the moment.
Keyes said that researchers like her and public health policymakers are attempting to keep up with an industry and market that are rapidly growing and changing.
When recreational marijuana became legal in New York in March 2021, marketing and advertising that is targeted in any way to appeal to children or other minors were prohibited.
However, the state Office of Cannabis Management in New York has not yet formally adopted regulations on labeling, packaging, and advertising that could outlaw cartoons and neon colors, as well as prohibit packaging images of food, candy, soda, drinks, cookies, or cereal that, according to the agency, could entice consumers under the age of 21.
According to Lyla Hunt, the OCM’s deputy director of public health and campaigns, consumers need to be informed; parents need to be aware; if they see things that look like other products that are frequently sold to kids, that’s an illegal market product.
Hunt recently came upon a cannabis product with the brand name Stony Patch Kids, which she claimed resembled the well-known sweet Sour Patch Kids.
Numerous illicit marijuana dispensaries that are openly operating and that authorities fear are selling faulty goods are offering similar goods. Experts predict that the black market won’t adhere to approved packaging and marketing regulations.
We have the ability to regulate indefinitely. The reality is that it’s a collaboration between a compliant sector, solid regulations that safeguard children, and parents as well, according to Hunt.
A juvenile found in possession of cannabis might be fined up to $50 under state law. Cannabis merchants with permits who sell to minors risk penalties and license revocation but not jail time.
Science has known for a long time that nicotine is addictive and that smoking tobacco causes diseases like emphysema and cancer.
The effects of vaping on health are less clear, especially for young children whose bodies and internal organs are still growing.
While teen and young adult tobacco cigarette consumption has decreased, e-cigarette and vape use has increased.
Most flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vapes, are prohibited in a select few states, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Similar restrictions are in place in a growing number of places, including New York City.
However, such regulations must be expanded to cover marijuana, according to Linda Richter of the Partnership to End Addiction, who claims that the problem has not yet received adequate attention.
She claimed that while the cannabis sector is subject to very less rules, regulations, restrictions, and scrutiny compared to the tobacco industry.
She continued by saying that because the legalized business is still relatively young, states have not yet unified their regulations under a single federal norm. The federal government is frequently looked to for setting these rules, although marijuana is still prohibited at the federal level.
When it comes to packaging and marketing guidelines, Richter said, that’s a significant problem where you don’t have the weight of the federal government to set boundaries to prevent appealing to young people.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other anti-smoking organizations have long criticized the tobacco industry’s marketing, which includes the use of cartoon characters to promote its products. They have recently waged a campaign against flavored nicotine products, including vaporizers.
However, these organizations haven’t targeted the marijuana sector as of yet.
According to a study published earlier this month, inadvertent ingestion of marijuana-laced treats by young children, particularly toddlers, has significantly increased the risk of poisoning.
The increase in cases is related to the expansion of states that permit the use of marijuana for leisure or medical purposes. Currently, 21 U.S. states permit recreational use of cannabis, while 37 states allow use for medical purposes.
It is very challenging to argue that flavors like strawberry-cheesecake, mango, or cookies-and-cream are appropriate for older folks, according to Dr. Pamela Ling, head of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
People who identify as cannabis enthusiasts, she continued, would say that smoking a flavored cannabis product is like adding ketchup on your steak.
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