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Like Meredith Berkman and Dorian Fuhrman, two of the co-founders of Parents Against E-Cigarette Vaping (PAVe) How to put it, “big tobacco messed with the wrong moms.” Along with her friend Dina Alessi, these New York City moms created PAVe in April 2018 as a grassroots response to the youth vaping epidemic that has affected millions of American families. The catalyst was her discovery that a JUUL representative had entered her children’s high school through an outside anti-addiction group, without the school’s knowledge, and told an assembly of ninth graders that JUUL it was “totally safe” and would receive FDA approval “at any moment.” “Her testimony in Congress about this incident, and that of Berkman’s son, Caleb Mintz, and Fuhrman’s son, Phillip, was cited by the FDA as evidence that JUUL marketed its highly addictive flavored e-cigarette for children.

To pave

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Building the first national voice of parents in the fight against the tobacco industry was never part of the plan. Sitting together around the kitchen table, searching the Internet for information on JUUL, they realized that the successful company was using social media to target teens with a product whose flavored pods contained more nicotine than a full pack of cigarettes. And they learned that teen use was so pervasive that “JUULing” had become a verb. They launched a website to educate parents like themselves about an adolescent public health crisis that was still far below the radar. Within hours, they began receiving emails from people across the country whose JUUL-dependent children suffered from extreme nicotine addiction; they too were furious with JUUL, but these parents were asking for help. Women realized they had to take action, and that meant fighting for laws that would protect children from e-cigarettes.

“We would have preferred to join a group like ours rather than start one,” says Berkman, noting that she and her friends searched in vain for a Mothers-Against-Drunken-Driving-Vaping. “This crisis chose us, not the other way around. We are accidental activists,” Fuhrman added. “We just knew we couldn’t let JUUL keep going after kids.”

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Things accelerated from there. Moms began meeting with pediatricians, addiction psychiatrists and other experts in their own backyard and built from there, creating important partnerships with and between institutions and researchers across the country, from Stanford School of Medicine to the School of Health. Harvard Public. (The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Truth Initiative, longtime leaders in tobacco control, became its earliest supporters after mothers stumbled upon them during a Google search.) Heading to Washington, DC with their children, they met with elected officials who would listen and eventually with FDA leadership, sounding the alarm about youth vaping but at the same time requesting that their JUUL story in school remain confidential. They knew it would have maximum impact if the company didn’t have time to prepare a response. The perfect time to go public came in July 2019 when Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight on the Economy and Consumer Policy, led a two-day hearing on JUUL that included Berkman, Fuhrman and their children along with other witnesses who shed an ugly light on JUUL’s targeting of youth. (In addition to seeking access to high schools, JUUL had even organized a summer camp for younger children.)

The hearing, and Caleb and Phillip’s testimony in particular, created a storm of negative international publicity that burned through JUUL’s tech-chic reputation and severely damaged the unicorn’s enormous bottom line. PAVe’s army of passionate parents continued to grow, and Fuhrman and Berkman (who are also full-time volunteers) continued to expand their agile, volunteer-driven nonprofit that today includes advocacy (501C4) and education (501C3) initiatives ( the latter’s efforts led by founding partner Miriam Boublik, who also donates her time).

PAVe’s second annual “Clear the Vapor” conference last month, co-sponsored by CVS Health, is just one marker of the group’s ongoing organic success. Virtual and free to remain highly accessible to parents, the event drew more than 2,000 attendees eager to hear other parents, educators, public health advocates, and elected officials nationally delve into all aspects of substance use. tobacco among youth.

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“It’s a call to action for parents like us who want to protect the next generation from becoming big tobacco customers for life,” said Alessi, who works in private equity and moderated a panel on why tobacco investments are incompatible with ESG principles.

Meanwhile, as PAVe, in Boublik’s words, seeks to “move the goalpost” with regional and national webinars and virtual and in-person testimony from parents at state and federal hearings, youth vaping continues to wreak havoc. Its growth has outpaced federal action limiting teens’ access to flavored e-cigarettes, including JUUL, PuffBar and other major industry players that remain in the market without full regulation. This despite a federal court order requiring the FDA to finish reviewing these products by September 2021, a regulatory process already delayed for years. In late May, the FDA filed court documents indicating that it would further postpone the completion of this process until July 2023. (PAVe is currently evaluating legal options.)

When asked what lessons they learned throughout their journey, Berkman and Fuhrman offered the following:

Follow your instincts

The day after discovering that a JUUL representative told their children’s ninth-grade assembly, without other adults present, that JUUL was “totally safe,” Berkman, Fuhrman and Alessi vowed to keep this shocking incident a secret. . “We knew we would testify about it before Congress,” she says. “To this day, we have no idea why.”

Be kind, humble and brave

We would be nowhere without the wisdom, generosity, and collaboration of our colleagues in tobacco control. We are good listeners who know what we don’t know, and we are grateful to those who are willing to teach us.

There is no shame in addiction

If it wasn’t for our children, we wouldn’t have known what happened at school that day. And if it wasn’t for our kids being honest about their addiction to vaping, PAVe wouldn’t be able to work on the initiatives we’re working on. Being honest and transparent about your experiences and journey, no matter how personally painful, is the key to success.

“In 2018, we never saw ourselves as social entrepreneurs or disruptors,” adds Meredith. Today, we cannot see ourselves in any other way. PAVe is a call to action for everyone who wants to protect our children from becoming Big Tobacco customers for life. While we are sickened that this is a growing epidemic, we are grateful that our network of volunteers is growing to help us fight the good fight.



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