An E-pendemic

October 31, 2019

An E-pendemic

E-cigarettes are everywhere nowadays. They rest in the hands of over 10 million adults across the country and are conveniently stashed away in the backpacks of one in four high school seniors. Vapes have even reached the lower grades. According to an annual survey conducted by the University of Michigan, one in eleven 8th graders has vaped in the past month. With fake IDs and easy online access, supplying yourself with ample vapes and e-liquids is absurdly easy. Vape companies such as Juul advertise themselves as a less harmful and “satisfying alternative to cigarettes,” which has enabled their company to reach a valuation of $30 billion. Such advertising, however, has proven to be both deceptive and intended to target underaged users. As a result, the use of vapes has exploded, with most cautionary tales disregarded and ignored. Now, as was the case with cigarettes, we are beginning to move past the novelty of their enveloping haze and see these devices for what they truly are. Specifically, we are beginning to see hundreds of victims with mysterious and deadly illne0sses, and vape companies with blood on their hands.

Over the past few months, vapes and e-cigarettes have been linked to a mysterious lung illness. As of October 3rd, eighteen people have died from vape-related illnesses and over one thousand contracted a peculiar lung disease. With hundreds of new cases having been reported in the past weeks, these numbers continue to climb. Unsurprisingly, these victims have one thing in common: they all are heavy vapers. The wide array of options available to users has made it impossible to link a certain substance, device, or cartridge to all of the cases. Ideally, the Centers for Disease Control would have been able to connect this unexpected surge of vape-related illnesses and fatalities to a newer or recently-altered product or substance. However, this has not been the case, so the root cause remains unknown.

The uncontested leader of the vape industry, Juul Labs, has based its entire advertisement campaign on the allure of switching from cigarettes to Juul while presenting their product as a safer alternative to cigarettes. Users never stopped to consider, however, just how similar a Juul may be to the cocktail of chemicals contained in cigarettes, which kill more than 480,000 people each year. We do know that a Juul pod contains twenty cigarettes worth of nicotine, as well as glycerol, propylene glycerol, benzoic acid, and flavorant, according to Juul’s website. However, the health effects of inhaling these chemicals are mostly unknown.  At present, Juul has halted $104 million in advertising and replaced its CEO, Kevin Burns with a chief growth officer at Altria, a major investor in Juul and ironically, a tobacco company. Despite this rampant uncertainty and state of flux, Juuls and other vape products remain heavily used.

Multiple school districts, including the Three Village Central School District in Long Island, are suing Juul, claiming that Juul’s products and advertising target children and has led to a crisis throughout both the school district and the country. The lawsuit also says that school districts have been disproportionately affected by Juul; districts such as Three Village have spent large sums of money combating vapes in their schools. Juul’s decision to suspend “all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the U.S.” in late September came too late, according to documents filed in the lawsuit.

“What scares me about vapes is that they seem to be walking in the shoes of cigarette companies,” said Jonathon Koumas, a senior at Huntington High School. “Cigarettes were initially smoked without hesitation, and as history has shown, this was a mistake. People continue to smoke them despite the abundance of health risks,” he said. “Vapes are fairly new to the market, and health risks have already emerged. I don’t look forward to seeing what the future holds for us.”

Another reason teens disregard the health risks of vaping relates to the internal and external features of common vapes. E-cigarettes offer their users a convenient and smell-free fix, putting vape companies on a pedestal above cigarettes. This, of course, does not correspond to any health benefits as vapes and e-cigarettes have not yet proven to be any less deadly than cigarettes. Additionally, flavored vapes come in bright colors and flavors that naturally appeal to young users. It is because of this that states such as New York have decided to temporarily ban flavored e-cigarettes while health risks are vigorously investigated.

In early September, President Trump announced his plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes, stating that, “We can’t allow people to get sick. . . we can’t have our kids be so affected.” Since then, multiple states have announced bans on e-cigarettes, and several more are planning to do the same.

Yet another contributing factor to the vape crisis is marijuana vape pens, which contain the psychoactive chemical THC. These products have been swept into the controversy, and many users are beginning to question the contents of their THC cartridges. As a result, marijuana pens are beginning to lose their share in the cannabis market, with a decline of 4.6 percent in Nevada and 4.2 percent in California, according to data from Headset analytics.

In a statement, Dr. Norman Sharpless, the current acting FDA Commissioner, discussed the inherent paradox of e-cigarettes. “While they were pitched as a way to get smokers to stop lighting up, they hooked a new generation that may end up smoking traditional cigarettes to get that fix.”  Without vapes, the number of available nicotine products would be significantly smaller than it is now, forcing those affected to choose between quitting and cigarettes, chewing tobacco, etc. Certainly, some will invariably choose the latter, at great risk to their health and possibly their lives. 

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