E-cigarettes have for too long held a unique place in the American regulatory framework. They aren’t tobacco, so the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has no jurisdiction. Though their ingredients are ingestible, liquid vapor manufacturers haven’t completely submitted to the Food and Drug Administration’s jurisdiction. These devices sneaked into Americans’ lives and their vapor into too many people’s lungs, making users human guinea pigs in an experiment that is yielding increasingly tragic outcomes.
On Monday, the FDA issued a stark warning to e-cigarette maker Juul to stop advertising its products as a safe alternative until the agency grants its approval. At least four users have died in recent weeks from lung ailments caused by inhaling vapor infused with ingredients which aren’t entirely known to regulators. The vaping industry has been around for about a decade, yet the regulatory framework governing them remains in its infancy while users are poisoning themselves.
E-cigarettes were once hailed as a revolutionary way to help millions of smokers wean themselves off cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes. Around the time they were introduced, an average of 435,000 people were dying prematurely each year from smoking-related diseases.
So e-cigarettes seemed like a genuine life saver. But there’s no escaping the downside: This new technology is just a more efficient way of delivering nicotine to feed user’s addictions. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin, researchers say.
The profit motive for exploiting the nicotine market is huge, which partially explains why the vaping industry is fighting every step of the way to avoid regulatory oversight by the Food and Drug Administration. At the same time, they have introduced a variety of flavored liquids designed specifically to bring young people under the vaping umbrella.
About 3.62 million middle and high-school students used e-cigarettes in 2018. From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use jumped 78% among high school students and 48% among middle school students. In 2014, 81% of young e-cigarette users said in a survey that the variety of appealing flavors attracted them to start vaping.
Today it’s chocolate or bubble-gum flavored vapor. Tomorrow, manufacturers wager, it’ll be nicotine — and the creation of a customer for life.
Meanwhile, young people are inhaling what they think are innocuous vaping liquids when, in fact, they could be killing themselves. The recent deaths are believed to involve a liquid containing THC, the chemical that causes a marijuana high. In an additional 450 cases, patients have been hospitalized with respiratory ailments linked to vaping.
Common sense would dictate that people know what they’re inhaling before they allow it into their lungs. But common sense doesn’t always prevail, especially among young people and especially when vaping products are marketed as safe when no federal regulatory agency has deemed them so. People are dying. Is that not enough for this to become a priority regulatory issue in Washington?