The vaping epidemic. Heard of it? It’s been all over the headline news. With the onslaught of Juuls, E-Cigarettes, and Vapes taking over big tobacco as a new trend within the last ten years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers of Disease and Control (CDC), and government officials are in a frenzy tacking this issue, now known as, “the vaping epidemic.” While we may think of the emerging epidemic as the cluster of headlines we see on the news related to illnesses, the multitude of issues within vaping and e-cigarette use goes far deeper than that.
The Vaping Epidemic
Currently, the vaping epidemic has now claimed 21 lives across 18 states and the CDC is reporting 1,080 vaping-related lung injuries in 48 states and the Virgin Islands. While officials have scrambled to pinpoint the exact cause of the injuries, data released last week confirmed that most patients had a history of vaping products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. A majority of the cases are male, with 80 percent under 35 and more than one-third 21.
With growing concerns over lung injuries and heightened awareness about youth-vaping rates, multiple states are rushing to ban restrictions on multiple products. Just last week, Washington state Governor, Jay Inslee (D), directed state officials to impose an emergency ban on flavored vaping products – including nicotine products and THC products.
In addition to Washington state, Rhode Island, Michigan, and New York have also banned most flavored vapes. Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker issued a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products. And, in the grocery-world, Kroger and Walmart have stated the would stop selling e-cigarettes.
President Trump even called for the FDA to ban flavored e-cigarettes entirely. The FDA announced more limited age restrictions related to flavors last year, but the proposed ban is expected to go further.
A Growing Concern? Or A Reaction?
Is this considered a reaction due to young adult lives at risk? Or is it a true and growing concern? As the legislative frenzy unfolds, some believe separate problems associated with e-cigarettes and vaping are conflated. The emergence of the lung injuries and deaths, seemingly out of nowhere, has sparked fear and confusion about what products may be dangerous and why as well as how many people are at risk. On Friday, state health officials said that black market marijuana vaping devices have been linked to most of the related cases.
Acting FDA commissioner Ned Sharpless said agency testing led the FDA to believe people were mixing pure THC with other oils to dilute the product, creating illegal and untested vaping liquids.
“A significant fraction of the THC products are contaminated with vitamin E acetate,” Sharpless said during a congressional hearing Sept. 25. The oil, generally used on skin, has “no business being in a pulmonary product,” Sharpless said. He believes vitamin E acetate was added as a cutting agent.
The most common brand researchers have come to find causing the illness is the “Dank Vapes.” Other brands identified by people with the lung injury include TKO, Off White, Moon Rocks, Chronic Carts and others. Industry experts said many THC products on the black market come from distributors who buy empty cartridges, fill them with THC mixtures, then purchase packaging with those brand labels.
Though a break in the research had come to fruition, Anne Schuchat, Deputy Director at the CDC, noted that they “don’t have the full data yet.”
With a skyrocket in not only adult vaping, but teen vaping, youngsters getting their hands on these devices are commonly seen in middle and high schools. In fact, E-Cigarettes are now the most widely used tobacco product among adolescents and according to the FDA some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017. We can only expect that number has surpassed within the last two years.
The crisis has been so widely seen in schools across the country, multiple school districts have sued Juul, the e-cigarette company that has denied marketing to young teenagers, though multiple school districts think otherwise.
The districts say Juul explicitly marketed its products to youths, leaving schools to shoulder the costs of stopping students from vaping, disciplining them when they break school rules and providing support services when they become addicted.
“As smart as our students are, they don’t understand the long-term ramifications of vaping and the amount of addictive chemicals they are dealing with,” said John Allison to the New York Times, the superintendent of Olathe Public Schools. “It’s our role to protect our students today and in the future.”
CDC and FDA analyzed data from NYTS 2016 to assess reasons youth use e-cigarettes. Among those who had ever used an e-cigarette, the most commonly selected reasons for use were:
- Use by “friend or family member” (39.0%)
- Availability of “flavors such as mint, candy, fruit, or chocolate” (31.0%)
- The belief that “they are less harmful than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes” (17.1%)
Symptoms of Lung Injuries
According to the CDC, they labeled the lung issues, “injuries,” because, “it really does look like an injury, not a long-term disease like emphysema,” Anne Schuchat, Deputy Director of the CDC said in an interview. “While there may be long-term consequences from the injuries,” she stated, “right now, it’s too early to tell.”
Symptoms of a lung injury can range from cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, or abdominal pain. While past patients have developed symptoms suddenly, over a few days, for others it was a slow buildup over a few weeks.
In addition to the updated injury and death count, researchers from the Mayo Clinic said in a report released Wednesday that some patients’ lung damage resembled chemical burns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement that together with the FDA, local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners, they are investigating a multi-state outbreak of lung disease associated with e-cigarette products. The FDA echoed the CDC’s concern, calling the outbreak “a frightening public health phenomenon.”
Other Vaping Issues Contributing To The Crisis
With government officials and the CDC with their hands full, it’s clear that lung-injuries taking the spotlight. Though, this hasn’t been the first time vaping and e-cigarettes have been a public issue. A separate issue caused by vapes have been making the rounds.
Exploding e-cigarettes have shattered people’s jaws, even killing people. While there’s no single cause or explanation for the explosions, the FDA reports they have appeared to be from “battery-related” issues. Additionally, a study published in the Tobacco Control found that emergency rooms saw “an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries from 2015-2017.
In addition to the explosions, there have been an increasing number of seizures involving Juul use. As of August 2019, the FDA received 127 reports of seizures or other neurological symptoms linked to e-cigarette use over the span of 10 years. While, it’s a slow climb, it’s still a lot of cases. Though, more recently three new cases were brought to the FDA to kickstart another investigation which is still ongoing.
Is Vaping Safe?
While vaping can mislead regular cigarette smokers as a safer, more alternative route, there’s to much of a wide diversity with vape products and e-cigarette juices to cover all the possibilities of considering each one safe. The CDC’s website notes that while e-cigarettes are considered to be less harmful than regular cigarettes, “that doesn’t mean e-cigarettes are safe.”
Throughout recent years, researchers have found that vaping at high voltages can release formaldehyde-causing chemicals, including increasing the risk of heart disease. Even if considered safer than cigarettes, vaping exposes users to more toxic chemicals and heavy metals than if one didn’t vape at all. In addition, some vapes and e-cigarettes still contain nicotine which is equally as addictive as a cigarette.