While it may look like a flashdrive, the crackling sound it creates is a dead giveaway. It is a vaping device.
And according to the Food and Drug Administration, it is an epidemic.
As fatal consequences of vaping surfaced for the first time this year, action was taken and laws were enforced. The legal age to vape was raised to 21 in many states. Places such as New York, Michigan and Massachusetts began banning vape products and flavors. Juul, an e-cigarette company, pulled its popular flavors of mango and mint off the market.
President Donald Trump came close to signing a law to ban flavored vapes altogether.
When millions of people have died from complications related to smoking cigarettes, the immediate response and subsequent banning of many different aspects of vaping seemed extreme, especially considering that vaping is supposedly the safer alternative.
Is vaping actually that bad?
The primary concern regarding vapes today is that they often deliver high concentrations of nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical and can be toxic in high doses. Popular brands of vapes such as Juul have fallen into the hands of minors through the facade of fun flavors, leaving them addicted.
About two-thirds of Juul users between the ages of 15-24 do not know that Juul always contains nicotine. Use of e-cigarettes went up among both middle and high school students from 2011 to 2019. This year, 10.5% of middle school students and 27.5% of high schoolers reported using electronic cigarettes in the last 30 days, according to studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain and affect attention, learning, mood and impulse control. Nicotine use can also increase users’ risk for future addiction to other drugs.
For a long time, the implications of vaping were misunderstood or not known at all. But a new lung illness related to vaping has been making national headlines these last few months. Dozens of people have now unfortunately fallen ill as a result of vaping. As of November 2019, 42 deaths and over 2,000 cases of serious lung illness have been reportedly related to e-cigarettes.
CEO and president of the American Lung Association Harold Wimmer said in a statement: “E-Cigarettes are not safe and can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease. No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.”
Dr. Elizabeth Tam is a pulmonologist affiliated with Queen’s Medical Center. She has been in practice for more than twenty years.
“These e-cigarettes are not under FDA regulation and we don’t know what is going to happen in the long run with them. These products are not anywhere near safe,” Tam said.
Smoking kills more than 480,000 people in the United States annually. A vaping illness pops up and the whole country reacts. It’s all over the news, teachers and parents are warned, flavors are taken off the market, and President Trump nearly banned flavored e-cigarettes entirely. Meanwhile, smoking has faced seemingly minimal repercussions over the years. So why is smoking still legal after all this time and vaping is facing backlash?
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, vaping is harmful, but not as much as smoking.
Why the emphasis on vaping but not more harmful things?
Smoking has killed millions but you can buy cigarettes at nearly any convenience store. Decades of gun violence in schools with thousands affected and guns are still legal. Lawmakers have made countless excuses for why gun laws and tobacco laws cannot be changed.
Exposure to secondhand smoke leads to lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in non-smokers. But only 26 states have laws that completely prohibit smoking in public areas like restaurants and bars, according to the CDC.
What makes vaping different?
According to Tam, there are a few factors that distinguish vaping from smoking. The flavoring in vapes are particularly attractive to young children and can easily get them addicted to nicotine for a lifetime. Unlike cigarettes, many vape products can also easily be purchased online by young children.
“One Juul pod is equal to a whole pack of cigarettes in terms of nicotine content. Toilet bowl water is cleaner than sewer water but you still wouldn’t drink it,” Tam said.
The electronic vaping products that have been marketed to help people quit smoking are under the control of the big tobacco industry, which is not in the business of helping people stop smoking at all, according to Tam.
There is some hypocrisy to the idea that cigarettes are believed to be more harmful than vaping, but vaping is facing significantly greater backlash. While vaping is definitely not good for you at the end of the day, the quick push-back on certain vape products just goes to show that when enough people care about an issue, significant societal changes can be made.