E-cigarettes under fire in debate over vaping dangers
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – Communities around the nation are leaping to ban flavored tobacco and other vaping products. The calls for more regulation come as public officials report a wave of deaths and illnesses related to vaping. James Mitchell is a former cigarette smoker, who believes the current outcry against e-cigarettes is an over-reaction. He kicked his pack-a-day cigarette habit by turning to e-cigarettes. He said that banning flavored tobacco and other vaping products will drive more people to smoking tobacco.
“What’s going to end up happening is the hundreds of thousands of people who vape all across the United States that are being affected by potential bans of these products, they’re going to go right back to a product that kills 1,300 people every day in this country,” Mitchell said, in a reference to conventional cigarettes.
In the San Diego area, two county supervisors, Nathan Fletcher and Dianne Jacob have been pushing for a ban on flavored e-cigarettes and a moratorium on the sale of vaping devices. The supervisors warned of the mounting risk to teens. “There are vaping manufacturers out there that are particularly targeting and preying on our youth,” Jacob said.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use among American high school students soared by 78 percent from 2017 to 2018.
In the last few months, deaths from vaping related illnesses in the United States have climbed steadily. The CDC confirmed the number of deaths has reached at least 23, nationwide. As of October 1, close to 11-hundred people had suffered lung injuries. Mitchell, the former smoker who owns a vape shop in San Diego said the numbers alone can be misleading. He said not one customer has complained of lung problems in the five years that he’s been selling e-cigarettes. “Nothing’s changed,” Mitchell said. The shop owner suspected that black market THC cartridges have been making people sick.
According to data from the CDC, more than three-quarters of those who became ill were vaping THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. In San Diego County, all 22 people who were hospitalized up until the end of September were vaping CBD or THC. “At the end of the day, I believe we’re going to find out that everything is coming from illicit black market THC products that are not being regulated,” Mitchell said.
Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander is a lung specialist and researcher at UC San Diego who said the medical community does not yet know what is driving the epidemic of vaping related illnesses. Prior to this year, Dr. Alexander said there were sporadic reports of illness, but nothing like the hundreds of illnesses that have surfaced in the last few months. “With the hundreds of people now affected, with several deaths, it is clear something different is going on,” Alexander said.
So far, no single brand or product has been identified as the source of the illnesses. Researchers at the Mayor Clinic said the lung injuries resemble burns from toxic chemicals. An investigation by the Washington Post found another possible culprit; some of the THC vaping products, obtained on the black market were laced with a substance called Vitamin E Acetate.
Doctor Alexander said she would support a measure to halt the vaping of THC. “I think in the interest of public health, the number one thing to do is ban the vaping of THC.”
While several states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Rhode Island have enacted various bans on flavored e-cigarettes, many retailers and e-cigarette users believe these bans would do more to hurt cigarette smokers who are trying to quit. Mitchell said he does not approve of selling high concentrations of nicotine in his e-cigarette liquids. He noted that a 3% pod of JUUL, an e-cigarette brand that is popular with teens contains roughly ten times the amount of nicotine in one bottle of e-cigarette liquid.
It may be that the combination of both stronger nicotine content and flavors are driving younger people to vape. Dr. Alexander said she would like to see sweet and fruit flavored nicotine removed from the market. She said the science shows there can be damage to the lungs. “When you inhale these clouds of chemical droplets and they coat the inside of your lungs, your lungs don’t like it.”
Although the researcher and the ex-smoker don’t see the same hazards in vaping, they did agree on one thing. They said a ban on vaping and e-cigarette products is unlikely to make vaping go away. “They are here to stay: the e-cigarette. Attempts to ban them outright in certain areas, cities, states, is going to lead to a larger black market. So many of them are available by mail, and the boxes are not labeled, you don’t have to sign for them,” Alexander noted.
According to Mitchell, “The alternative to this is people going back to utilizing traditional tobacco that is knowingly going to kill them.”
As the CDC and other public health agencies investigate the source of the lung illnesses, some states, including Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have already enacted various bans on the sales of flavored e-cigarettes.
San Francisco is the first city in the United States to effectively prohibit all e-cigarette sales.
India, a nation of 266 million tobacco users just made vaping illegal.
The ban on flavored tobacco and the moratorium on vaping devices proposed by supervisors Fletcher and Jacob will be considered by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors next week.