Frequently touted as a means to quit smoking, vaping took the country by storm. It wasn’t long before those vaping were not just individuals seeking to wean themselves off cigarettes, but also teenagers. So much so, that now many schools across the country have had to put vaping bans in place. Some manufacturers of vaping paraphernalia claim that it is “safer than smoking,” but new evidence has come to light that calls that claim into question. Nicotine is an addictive substance, regardless of whether it’s delivered in the form of cigarettes or vape products, so the fact that young people are using the products is a health concern. Not only that, we don’t know what the long term effects will be.  We know from tobacco research that even one cigarette as a youth significantly increases the risk of a lifelong addiction. 

Recently, there has been an outbreak of news stories surrounding a respiratory disease affecting individuals who vape. Multiple investigations of a link between e-cigarettes and the lung illness are ongoing. No definite conclusions have been drawn at this point, but health officials are urging people to stop vaping. A spokesperson for the CDC, Dana Meaney-Delman, said, “the agency recommends people not use e-cigarettes while the investigation is ongoing and until officials identify a cause.”

So far, the mysterious lung illness has caused the death of six individuals, and the CDC is currently investigating 380 “likely” or “confirmed” cases of the disease. According to doctors, in many of the cases being investigated, the symptoms were gradual, starting with difficulty breathing and shortness of breath progressing to chest pain. A few individuals also experienced other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, and fatigue. Similar to patients suffering from viral pneumonia, x-rays of patients revealed shadows on the lungs said pulmonologist, Dr. Dixie Harris of Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City. Dr. Harris has worked on 24 cases in the state of Utah. 

Health officials haven’t been able to identify the particular vaping product(s) associated with the illness. Some of the affected individuals have reported using only products containing nicotine while others have reported using products with THC, a compound found in marijuana, as well as nicotine. Meanwhile, in New York, health officials have noted very high levels of vitamin E oil in cannabis vaping products, though none in nicotine only products. Across the board, none of the three substances have been found in all victims. 

These deaths and illnesses are very concerning; however, more information is necessary before calling for a complete ban on all vaping products.  We know cigarettes lead to many more deaths and we have yet to ban them; however, that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from jumping the gun – including calling for an all out ban on vaping. Many politicians are calling on the FDA to, at the very least, take action against e-cigarette makers and regulate the industry.

Of particular concern has been the rising popularity of vaping among youth. The FDA has recently sent a warning letter cracking down on the leading maker of e-cigarettes, JUUL, for falsely promoting its products as “99% safer” than cigarettes or “totally safe” and directing its advertising at youth with the addition of various “flavors.” Acting FDA commissioner, Dr. Ned Sharpless, says the FDA has put the vaping industry on notice, “If the disturbing rise in youth e-cigarette use continues, especially through the use of flavors that appeal to kids, we’ll take even more aggressive action.”