Vaping is the latest craze, but we are only now finding out about the dangers for our youth. Some 26% of Hawaii’s high school students have used a vaping device, twice the national average.
Many users don’t consider themselves smokers, and feel vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes. In fact, e-cigarettes were supposed to be a safer alternative, and offer a way to help people stop smoking while still handling their nicotine cravings.
However, a new generation has chosen these electronic devices before ever picking up a regular cigarette. Flavored “juice” has attracted an even younger crowd.
Vaping is popular, yet some users are getting sick or dying.
The Mayo Clinic, based on findings from lung biopsies, described the damage as similar to toxic chemical exposures or chemical burns.
How could something that dangerous pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration and continue to be sold in stores?
Hawaii Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson has called for everyone to stop vaping until more is known about the dangers. Places like San Francisco have led the charge, banning vaping products from stores.
Given the clearly identified harm from some yet-to-be-identified substance in the vaping liquids, the question remains – should e-cigarettes be allowed at all?
Sales should stop now until more data is available.
Before 2016, there was no regulation of the sale of electronic cigarettes. In August of that year, the FDA gave its Center for Tobacco Products regulatory authority over all electronic nicotine delivery devices. Applications from the companies selling the devices were supposed to be completed by 2018, but the deadline was extended to 2022. However, given the recent revelations, this has been accelerated to May.
What possible argument would justify the use of a device that is clearly proven to cause harm, even if the particular ingredient injuring users’ lungs has not yet been identified?
It should not come as a surprise that one of the biggest manufacturers, Juul, is 35% owned by Altria, the nation’s leading tobacco company, formerly known as Philip Morris. Even if the rates of traditional cigarette use goes down, the company will still make money from those transitioning to electronic cigarettes.
The company’s website describes the product as “a satisfying alternative to cigarettes” and says its mission is “to improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes”.
Alternatives do exist for habitual smokers – nicotine replacement in the form of gum, patches, sprays, etc. These prescription and over-the-counter products have been approved by the FDA and are available to help those who want to quit. They’re not without potential side effects but the risks are known. Anyone can review them and make an informed decision.
However, no safety studies have been done on vaping devices, and although the FDA has demanded them, too many people have died or been injured to wait until May to take action.
Sales should stop now until more data is available. The FDA has enough information from the CDC and scientists to make a preliminary decision to stop allowing the sale of these products.
If there is an ingredient that causes damage, the companies will be highly motivated to help find it, so that their sales can continue. Rather than waiting for more deaths, and for physicians to do their research for them, they could conduct their own studies. They should be required to prove their product is safe, rather than claim it’s safer than the alternative, traditional cigarettes.
The longer we wait for action, the greater the risk of injuries and possible deaths, while the companies continue to make millions putting the public in jeopardy.
It took decades before the tobacco industry acknowledged its product causes harm. Now, it’s widely accepted that smoking causes lung cancer, especially with long-term use.
How long will it take for the vaping industry to do the same?
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Kathleen Kozak, M.D., is an internal medicine physician at Straub Clinic and Hospital. She is also a part-time medical director for UHA Health Insurance and is the host of “The Body Show” on Hawaii Public Radio.