This feels like an especially strange edition of 2019 Mad Libs. “On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced it would [VERB] [PLURAL NOUN] in order to protect the health of America’s children.”
*Reaches into “verb” bag* “Ban.”
*Reaches into “plural noun” bag* …”E-cigarettes”? Not actual cigarettes? Or sugar? Or guns? Or, Trump being Trump, immigrants?
Not all e-cigarettes are on the chopping block, just the flavored ones that are more likely to attract younger customers. Last week the feds announced that no fewer than 450 cases of severe lung disease, six of which have resulted in death, may be linked to vaping. The inflammation looks like pneumonia on lung scans, the NYT notes, and the symptoms can include nausea, coughing, and fatigue — but there’s no underlying evidence of illness. Some patients say they used vape cartridges containing THC, leading scientists to suspects that cannabinoid oils caused the inflammation, but others claim they used regular ol’ nicotine cartridges. Researchers are in the dark, wondering if maybe some as yet unidentified combination of chemicals in certain vaping products is causing the reaction.
Until they figure it out, a (partial) ban is in the offing:
The Food and Drug Administration is currently finalizing its guidance to remove all non-tobacco flavors of e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, from the market within 30 days. Companies might be able to reintroduce their flavors at a later date, so long as they submit a formal application and receive approval from the FDA.
Vaping companies like Juul have been criticized for hooking children on e-cigarettes with their fruity flavors like mango and creme. The surge in underaged vaping, which U.S. health officials have labeled as an “epidemic,” is one of the reasons why they plan to ban them — at least until the FDA can thoroughly review their safety, Azar said after meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on the issue…
Azar said they want to keep tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes on the market for adults who may be using them to quit smoking. The FDA has embraced e-cigarettes as a less harmful way for smokers to satisfy their nicotine addiction than smoking cigarettes. Skyrocketing numbers of minors started using the products, forcing the FDA to reverse course.
A bad idea, for at least two reasons. One: Leaving tobacco-flavored e-cigs on the market risks funneling kids who currently get their nicotine fix from fruit-flavored candy-like products towards something that tastes much more like real cigarettes. If the fear with vaping is that it’s a gateway drug for tobacco products, why the hell would you want to condition children to crave nicotine that tastes like tobacco? (Azar said the FDA might extend the ban to tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes if demand for it begins to increase among kids.) Two, via Casey Given: Although scientists are unsure what’s causing the cases of lung disease, even critics of vaping like former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb suspect that black-market products are to blame. In which case the last thing the feds should want to do is … push demand for fruit flavors entirely onto the black market, right?
Legitimate e-liquids are generally based on chemicals that are water soluble, not oils that can cause acute lung injury. High levels of vitamin E acetate were found in nearly all cannabis-containing vapes tested by NYS Department of Health. Nobody should use illegal vape products
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) September 7, 2019
A recent study of vape-related lung cases in Illinois and Wisconsin found that 83 percent of patients admitted to using black-market products. Among those who were extensively interviewed, 80 percent admitted to using THC oil products. Vitamin E acetate oil has been found in other black-market products linked to lung patients. These people aren’t “vaping” so much as, uh, “oiling.” The feds might inadvertently be doing more harm than good here by pulling safer mainstream products off the shelves and leaving consumers to try their luck with the bootleg stuff.
As for whether vaping really is a gateway to smoking, the data is mixed. Gottlieb published a statement as FDA commissioner last November claiming that “The data show that kids using e-cigarettes are going to be more likely to try combustible cigarettes later,” but Tiana Lowe rightly notes that smoking rates in the U.S. are momentarily at an all-time low. At least one study has claimed that cigarette smokers who switch to vaping are 77 percent more likely to stay away from smokes for two years than non-vapers are.
In fact, last year a British parliamentary committee devoted to science and technology recommended deregulating vaping in order to encourage more of it. Sure, there are health risks, said the committee, but the choice for many isn’t whether to vape or not, it’s whether to smoke or vape. “Concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking, including for young non-smokers, have not materialized,” said the committee’s chairman. “If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS’s (National Health Service) stop smoking arsenal.” On top of everything else, Lowe argues, the policy is regressive: If you’re working class and trying to quit smoking, that’s going to be harder with vape cartridges less available. Seems like we’re headed for another hard lesson on what happens when you try to prohibit a pleasurable product, except in this case public health arguably benefits on balance from that product’s availability.
Might help Trump with suburban women next year, though, no? There can’t be a lot of moms who are eager to see their teen vaping, even knowing that it beats them smoking.
By the way, and possibly related, this appeared on political Twitter this afternoon not long after the FDA announcement:
Andrew Yang’s campaign manager just called to tell me that at tomorrow night’s debate, Yang will be doing "something no presidential candidate has ever done before in history.” He declined to go further than that.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) September 11, 2019
Is Yang maybe going to vape onstage and plead the case for e-cigarettes? That would be a crafty way to leverage the news cycle to get young voters’ attention.