But if lawmakers think that alone is the answer to the vaping crisis, they haven’t looked closely at the statistics.
Of the 805 lung disease cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of last week, only 16% of the patients are under 18. Nearly two-thirds, 62%, are between 18 and 34. The rest, presumably, are older. Adults make up the largest share of those getting sick. It isn’t even close.
Way back in 2014, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health did a survey asking young vapers why they were doing it. The availability of appealing flavors was cited by 81 percent of them. I find little evidence suggesting this has changed.
It’s wrong to think adults don’t like the flavors, too. A survey published last year by the Harm Reduction Journal found that adults who switched from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes were increasingly likely to use the flavors, as well. Between June 2015 and June 2016, 33.5% of them said their first e-cigarette purchase was fruit flavored. That was up from 17.8% before 2011.
And yet many more of them are using traditional tobacco flavored products and still getting sick, apparently.
The point of all this isn’t to criticize efforts to keep young people from vaping. Society has a keen interest in protecting the health of its youth, and plenty of evidence exists to suggest that vaping can harm developing minds.
No, the point is to alert lawmakers that grownups are suffering, too. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the only effective ban would be one that includes all e-cigarettes, regardless of flavor.
At least, they should be banned until researchers get a firm handle on what, exactly, is making people sick.
Much has been made about how e-cigarettes are supposedly safer than traditional cigarettes. The growing list of hospitalizations for lung diseases that may or may not leave permanent damage is calling this into question. Cigarettes lead to health problems over a period of time. Vaping, at least in the cases reported so far, seems to do damage much quicker.
By the way, if you’re wondering why the government didn’t do anything five years ago after that survey found so many young people being lured by flavors, the L.A. Times this week has the answer.
The newspaper analyzed thousands of memos and a database of meetings from November 2015 to February 2016 and found that the Obama administration decided to reject a proposed flavor ban after a massive lobbying effort by tobacco companies and industry officials.
The Office of Management of Budget, whose job was to evaluate the economic impact of such a ban, held at least 44 meetings with industry representatives working hard to fight it. It held only seven meetings with public health advocates.
The FDA finally published its rules on e-cigarettes in 2016, minus any flavor ban or any of the evidence that showed how flavors were leading young people to use the products.
Health experts told the Times that a ban back then could have eliminated the rise in underaged vaping today.
That may be true, but isn’t clear it would have headed off the increase in lung disease, hospitalizations and deaths.
Experts say Juul crams the nicotine of 20 cigarettes into one pod. The CDC reports 77% of the patients hospitalized were vaping products containing THC, the compound in marijuana that makes you high.
Vaping already is illegal in Utah if you’re under 19. Vaping marijuana products is illegal except for people who have prescriptions to use it for specific medicinal reasons. And yet the products apparently are easy to acquire.
Half of the 71 cases of lung disease reported so far in Utah involve vaping that contained marijuana. Kids who are addicted to nicotine, meanwhile, won’t likely quit easily if their favorite flavors are gone.
Despite the claims that vaping can help traditional smokers quit, a ban on flavors at this point would be a half measure. It’s time for a full ban, at least until we know what we’re dealing with.