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FDA Bans Fruit- and Mint-Flavored Vaping Products

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially banned flavored e-cigarette products in an effort to curb youth vaping.

The agency specifically targeted tastes that appeal to children, including generic “fruit” and mint.

Enticed by familiar flavors, growing numbers of kids are turning to vaping as an alternative to traditional tobacco rolls: According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than a quarter of high school students are e-cigarette users.

The so-called “epidemic” (as described by the FDA and Department of Health and Human Services), coupled with reports of vaping-related respiratory illnesses, has spurred the nation to action.

In June, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban all sales of battery-powered e-cigarettes, making it illegal to sell nicotine vaporizer products in stores, or for online retailers to ship goods to Bay Area addresses.

The state of Michigan followed suit, halting the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products in retail stores and online. The restrictions extend to misleading marketing, including the use of terms like “clean,” “safe,” and “healthy,” which may perpetuate ideas that vaping products are harmless.

Even Donald Trump backed plans to ban non-tobacco-flavored electronic cigarette products.

“We will not stand idly by as this crisis among America’s youth grows and evolves,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We will continue monitoring the situation and take further actions as necessary.”

Under the FDA’s new policy, companies that do not cease manufacture, distribution, and sale of unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes (other than tobacco or menthol) within 30 days risk “enforcement actions” (the specifics of which remain unclear).

“We will continue to use our full regulatory authority thoughtfully and thoroughly to tackle this alarming crisis that’s affecting children, families, schools, and communities,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said.

“We believe this policy balances the urgency with which we must address the public health threat of youth use of e-cigarette products,” he continued, “with the potential role that e-cigarettes may play in helping adult smokers transition completely away from combustible tobacco to a potentially less risky form of nicotine delivery.”

Cigarette consumption peaked in 1965, when about 50 percent of men and 33 percent of women were sucking down 100+ butts a year. Usage began to wane in the new millennium, dropping to less than 25 percent of adults who now smoke tobacco.

Children, however, are a different story: The 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey estimates that more than 5 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarette products.

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U.S. Senator Urges Tesla to Fix ‘Misleading’ Autopilot

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A U.S. Congress member is urging Tesla to adopt “common sense” changes to its Autopilot system to boost safety.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.)—a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee—on Friday released recommendations from his review of the infamous driver assistance system.

The semi-autonomous function includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, emergency braking, semi-automated steering, parking assist, and the ability to recall the vehicle from a parking place.

The one thing it’s lacking, however, is total autonomy.

Despite repeated reminders that Autopilot is “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time,” folks still think it’s OK to doze off during the commute and let their car do the navigating.

“Autopilot is a flawed system, but I believe its dangers can be overcome,” Markey said in a statement.

The senator launched his investigation after media reports suggested Tesla drivers are finding ways to circumvent safety alerts and the automatic shut-off feature designed to activate when an Autopilot user stops paying attention.

Posted online, workarounds include resting the driver’s hand at the six o’ clock position and wedging a water bottle or firm orange into the steering wheel.

Markey in November requested that Tesla address safety flaws in its Autopilot system, asking, among other things, about the vehicle maker’s testing process and what action it is taking to improve Autopilot for future models.

His latest statement, posted last week, includes specific recommendations, like remarketing Autopilot, which Markey called “an inherently misleading name.”

“This rebranding would significantly reduce the confusion that encourages driver misuse of the technology,” according to the press release.

Markey also suggested building in backup monitoring systems that track driver engagement in different ways.

“This kind of technological redundancy,” the politician explained, “would promote safety by making sure that one system is always monitoring a driver’s attention, even if another sensor fails or is tricked by the user.”

The family of a Tesla owner killed when his Model X crashed into a concrete highway median in California sued the firm in May. The lawsuit alleged the engaged Autopilot feature was “defective,” and caused the death of Apple engineer Walter Huang.

The company did not immediately respond to Geek’s request for comment.

“I have been proud to work with Tesla on advancing cleaner, more sustainable transportation technologies. But these achievements should not come at the expense of safety,” Markey said.

“That’s why I’m calling on Tesla to use its resources and expertise to better protect drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and all other users of the road,” he continued. “Tesla can and must do more to guarantee the safety of its technology.”

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Seattle District First to Allow Mobile Voting in Local Election

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Voters across Seattle’s King County can now cast ballots via smartphone.

This historic moment for American democracy comes with a catch, though.

Online voting is available only for the King Conservation District Board of Supervisors election—a contest “so obscure,” the Seattle Times explained, voters must specifically request a ballot.

King Conservation District elections typically draw voter turnout of no more than three percent, according to the paper.

Polls are now open: Use your name and birthdate to log into the Democracy Live web portal through a mobile browser. Once the ballot is complete, verify your submission and sign the screen.

Electronic entries returned by 8 p.m. PT on Feb. 11 (election day) will be printed and counted toward the final tally.

“This is the most fundamentally transformative reform you can do in democracy,” Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Philanthropies, a nonprofit working with the county to implement this mobile voting pilot.

Mobile voting dates back to May 2018, when the Voatz app opened to two counties in West Virginia for initial testing of the technology.

Following a successful pilot, the option was extended to military and overseas voters during the November 2018 general election, and then during the May 2019 Denver municipal poll.

Utah and Oregon followed suit, and by the end of last year had implemented mobile voting pilots in their respective states.

The KCD in Washington marks the first time mobile voting is available to all eligible registered constituents.

“This election could be a key step in moving toward electronic access and return for voters across the region,” King County Director of Elections Julie Wise told the Times.

The polarizing move, as NPR pointed out, will likely fan the flames of controversy regarding voting access-versus-voting security.

While the U.S. lags far behind most developed democracies in terms of election turnout rates, digital voting technology has let the country down before. (Russian cyberattacks, anyone?)

“There’s a lot of things we do online—banking, health records—that are also of concern for people that are secure,” Wise said. “I’ve vetted this, technology experts in the region have vetted this to ensure that this is a safe, secure voting opportunity.”

Specialists, however, have warned against mobile voting, arguing that technology has not yet advanced enough, and that the internet will “never be safe or transparent enough for something as important as democracy,” NPR reported.

But that won’t stop Tusk Philanthropies, which is determined to step into the future of voting—no matter how much convincing it takes.

“Everyone who doesn’t want this to happen is never going to say, ‘We oppose mobile voting because we don’t want higher turnout,’” company chief Tusk said. “They’re going to say, ‘It’s not safe.’ And if we have proven 30, 40, 50 times over that it is safe, it’s a lot harder for those objections and arguments to fly.”

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Tinder Adds Built-In Panic Button, Photo Verification

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Your hookups are about to get a lot more secure.

Tinder this week announced new safety features, including access to personal emergency services and anti-catfishing photo verification.

“Every day, millions of our members trust us to introduce them to new people, and we’re dedicated to building innovative safety features powered by best-in-class technology that meet the needs of today’s daters,” Tinder CEO Elie Seidman said in a statement.

“I’m proud to share these updates, which represent an important step in driving our safety work forward at an unmatched scale,” he added.

Noonlight

Discreetly trigger emergency services if they are feeling uneasy or in need of assistance. (Photo Credit: Tinder)

A new partnership with personal safety app Noonlight allows U.S. users to share details about upcoming dates, like who, where, and when you’re meeting.

The built-in panic button also makes it easy to discreetly trigger emergency services if you feel uneasy or need assistance.

“Noonlight acts as a silent bodyguard in situations when you’re alone or meeting someone for the first time,” company co-founder Brittany LeComte said. “Now, through our integration with Tinder, it can serve as a quick backup for daters, helping to deter bad behavior and helping members meet matches with more confidence.”

“It’s a first-of-its-kind added security measure to help protect Tinder members even when they’ve taken their interactions off the app into real life,” she added.

Photo Verification

Verified profiles will display a blue checkmark. (Photo Credit: Tinder)

No one wants to get catfished—lured in then disappointed by the person with whom they thought they’d made a connection.

Which is why Tinder is introducing Photo Verification: to ensure every match is who they say they are.

Self-authenticate through a series of real-time posed selfies that are compared to existing profile photos by human-assisted AI. Pass the test to receive a sought-after blue checkmark, so users can trust your profile is bonafide.

The function is currently testing in select markets, and will continue rolling out more widely this year.

Safety Center

Users can always check Tinder’s ever-evolving Safety Center (via the main menu and chat) for new features, resources, and tools.

Available soon to members in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, content will eventually become more personalized to provide a relevant experience for every dater.

Safety Center was developed in collaboration with the Match Group Advisory Council, and will be launched across Match Group’s portfolio of courtship platforms over the coming months.

No Offense

Taking a page from Instagram’s book, Tinder announced the “Does This Bother You?” function, which uses machine learning to detect whether an offensive message has been sent.

If a recipient responds “yes” to the automated prompt, they can report the person’s inappropriate behavior.

The coming-soon “Undo” feature similarly asks folks if they’d like to take back a message containing potentially offensive language before it’s sent.

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