By: Adam Perkinson
The United States Government has identified a massive threat to high school-aged teenagers.
It’s not underaged drinking. It’s not inexperienced driving. It’s not even guns.
According to the Truth Initiative, a non-profit public health organization focusing especially on tobacco and nicotine addictions, e-cigarette use among high school students has jumped over 10% in 5 years. This jump has concerned government officials, who say that teen vaping constitutes a public health emergency. And last week, Michigan became the first state to ban all sales of e-cigarettes. Governor Gretchen Whitmer blames the assorted flavorings manufacturers use. The logic is sound; kids tend to like fruity flavors, and some of the most popular flavors are mango and other so-called “fun” flavors. New York also joined Michigan and banned all sales of e-cigarettes on September 17th.
The backlash against vaping has spread worldwide as well. In India, a proposed law would completely ban e-cigarettes countrywide and would enact steep fines for violators.
What doesn’t make sense, however, is the fact that government officials are blaming the already-FDA-regulated vaping industry for the deaths that are related to the unregulated marijuana vape pens. A health report from Illinois and Wisconsin revealed that 84 percent of their lung disease cases were linked to marijuana vapes, not nicotine. California and Oregon also reported one death each from marijuana vapes.
CDC director Robert Redfield took to Twitter, urging Americans to not buy THC or CBD products off of the street following the reports. “E-Cigarette Users: Do not buy #ecigarette products with THC or CBD products off the street. Do not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer.”
It’s obvious that the health risks are with marijuana vapes and not so much with the typical nicotine vapes that dominate the e-cig market. However, we still don’t know how safe regular vaping actually is. Redfield also encouraged e-cig users to stop vaping until the CDC’s investigation into the diseases is finished. As of this writing, however, Redfield says that “no one device, product, or substance has been linked to all cases”.
A study released today by Duke University has found extremely unsafe levels of Pulegone, a naturally occurring chemical in peppermint and pennyroyal. Pulegone is carcinogenic and has been linked to liver failure and liver toxicity. It’s safe in peppermint flavored foods, but researchers say that the chemical is present in mint and menthol flavored e-cig liquids at “levels far above a safe threshold”. It’s so high, researchers compared the levels found in menthol cigarettes and found that pulegone levels were somewhere between 44 and 1,608 times higher in e-cigarettes.
The reason for this is that cigarette manufacturers have known about the carcinogenic effects of pulegone for decades. For e-cigarette companies, however, it’s unclear how much they are actually using because the FDA is unsure whether they’re using the natural or synthetic form of the chemical.
Additionally, there has been a criminal probe conducted by the FDA. It hasn’t been entirely released but here’s what we know so far:
- As of September 17, 2019 at 5pm, 530 cases of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products have been reported to the CDC from the following states and 1 U.S. territory: AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MI, MN, NC, ND, NE, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WI, WV, WY, and USVI. These numbers may change frequently.
- CDC has received complete sex and age data on 373 of 530 cases.
- Two thirds (67%) of cases are 18 to 34 years old
- 16% of cases are under 18 years and 17% are 35 years or older
- Seven deaths have been confirmed in six states: California (2), Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon.
- No consistent e-cigarette or vaping product, substance, or additive has been identified in all cases, nor has any one product or substance been conclusively linked to lung disease in patients.
- However, the Washington Post reports that the majority of victims reported using both THC and nicotine-only e-cig products.
- Juul is being sued and has been warned by the FDA for illegally advertising their products as “a safe alternative” to smoking.
So what’s the White House’s plan for combating the rise of teen vaping and the increasing illnesses arising from vaping weed?
Simply put, attacking one crisis and ignoring another isn’t going to work. Mike Hogan, a lobbyist for the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, summed it up nicely. “It’s like having salmonella in Romaine lettuce and calling to ban peanut butter,” he said.
What would work though? Other than not vaping at all (I mean, what good can come from purposefully inhaling something other than air?), there needs to be laws changed. In my opinion, the legalization – and thus regulation – of marijuana federally would be a good first step. As it stands now, the FDA has no legal authority to regulate marijuana or marijuna products. Federal regulation would discourage people from buying from shady dealers and rather instead going to brightly lit and safe stores where they know exactly what’s in the vapes they’re buying. There also needs to be strict regulations placed on e-cigarette companies that mirrors those placed on the tobacco industry, including banning advertisements of e-cigarette products to those under the age of 18.
That all being said, it’s not likely that marijuana nor marijuana-related products will be legalized any time soon. Conservatives are wary of legalization, and with extra pressure from tobacco lobbyists, the slim chance there is for legalization is reduced to almost none. This leaves one solution that has a 100% disease prevention rate: not vaping at all.
I leave the reader with this: What’s going to be worse? Lung disease or a few days of nicotine withdrawal?
Nicotine Addiction Resources
- 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).
- Interpretation services available for many languages.
- Spanish: 1-855-Dejelo-Ya (1-855-335-3569)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration