The Long-Term Toll of Electronic Cigarettes and Regulatory Inaction

By Chuck Norris

October 18, 2019 7 min read

News earlier in the year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that the number of middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes has risen by more than 50% from 2017 to 2018 seemed to catch us all a little flat-footed. It translated to a problem of 2.1 million young people to a problem of 3.6 million young people — and counting. Recent data from the CDC shows that today, 1 in 4 high school students vape.

One approach to confronting this health crisis is a nationwide ban on the sale of flavored products so appealing to young people. Such a ban has yet to materialize. According to the campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, filling that void, a number of cities, counties and states have enacted emergency rules to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes, including the sale of flavored tobacco products.

This provides little comfort. It seems like too little too late, to me. According to a New York Times report, the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping devices is now well-entrenched with $7 billion in annual sales. It has become a part of daily life for millions of Americans. Tragically, many of those customers are as young as middle schoolers. How did that happen? As the report points out, over the last 10 years, the federal government has largely ignored the explosion in electronic cigarettes and vaping.

Meanwhile, schools are forced to install special sensors in bathrooms where vaping students congregate, remove bathroom doors, ban flash drives that vaping devices emulate and hire more staff for programs to help students deal with the behavioral problems nicotine addiction brings on — in addition to providing other needed educational improvements.

What is now coming to light, says the Times report, is that a decade after Congress gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products like e-cigarettes, the federal government repeatedly delayed or weakened efforts that could have protected teenagers.

Some schools around the country have become so fed up with students vaping on campus that they have sued the leading e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul Labs Inc. This legal action included school systems in Olathe, Kansas; St. Charles, Montana; Long Island, New York and La Conner, Washington.

In a statement, Juul officials said they have never marketed to kids and have taken steps to limit access to products for anyone under 21. In comments to NPR, Shannon Wickliffe, the president of the Olathe Public Schools Board of Education responded by saying: "You can't tell me that having flavors like bubblegum and grape is not trying to entice our kids to do something they (Juul) know is unhealthy. I understand it as a business strategy, but I think it's kind of disgusting that you would try to addict our children knowing the health consequences."

As pointed out in a recent New York Times legal analysis, Juul's website states: "As scientists, product designers and engineers, we believe that vaping can have a positive impact when used by adult smokers."

That claim could be an issue for the company, as the United States attorney's office in San Francisco, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorneys general have all opened investigations into how the company has marketed its products.

As the Times notes, one operative statute under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 says the FDA can pursue a civil case if the labeling of a product does not provide "adequate warnings against use in those pathological conditions or by children where its use may be dangerous to health."

The lawsuits and other potential actions come as the number of patients with vaping-related illnesses continues to climb. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now intensified its warnings about the risks of vaping.

Many teens who were predominately using vape pens just a few years ago have transitioned to Juul, with its 75 % of the market, and pod mods designed to deliver higher levels of nicotine to the brain. More nicotine makes the products more addictive.

The results of the escalating addictions are now coming in. The CDC reported that as of Oct. 8, 1,299 people in the United States have had confirmed or probable cases of lung injuries linked to vaping. As reported by Reuters, some 80% of those patients were under age 35, and 26 deaths have been linked to the illness, with many other cases still under investigation.

Science is also showing how repeated use of nicotine can affect brain development, memory, concentration, learning, self-control, attention and mood. It remains a main active ingredient in a product for which we do not know the long-term harm. Many doctors are also now raising concerns that vaping injury cases are certain to be missed in the rush of patients seeking treatment for seasonal flu and other respiratory ailments.

Traditionally, flu activity starts to pick up in October and November and typically peaks between December and February. The start of the flu season may make it harder to diagnose cases because some symptoms of lung damage from vaping — cough, shortness of breath, fever — can mimic those of influenza, a disease that can be deadly in people who have other underlying illnesses.

As reported by NBC News, beyond the flu season, a worrisome realization is emerging about the more than 1,200 people diagnosed with severe lung injuries related to vaping: Even after they recover, they may be at risk for future breathing problems and hospitalization. Public health officials urge that vaping-related illnesses must now be front and center on doctors' radars as investigators learn about this new form of life-threatening lung injuries in real time.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: sarahjohnson1 at Pixabay

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