Amid growing alarm about vaping-related illnesses, states should immediately ban e-cigarettes
At the end of September, the number of cases of respiratory illness linked to vaping rose sharply—to 805 from 530 in a single week—and 12 persons had died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. With the mysterious disease now present in 46 states and territories and nearly 11 million Americans vaping on a regular basis, the problem of vaping-related illnesses has become a national health emergency that requires urgent action—and this is most easily accomplished on the state level.
Massachusetts has taken the lead on this issue by placing a four-month ban on sales of e-cigarettes. This includes online and in-store sales of all vaping products and devices as well as the pods that contain nicotine or THC—the psychoactive component of marijuana which might play some role in the illnesses. The Rosenthal Center urges all states to enact a comprehensive ban along the lines of the Massachusetts restrictions as the most effective way to safeguard public health in the face of a baffling dilemma and slow federal action to contain it.
Doctors first recognized some linkages between acute respiratory distress and e-cigarettes as early as 2012. But only recently have health officials begun comparing data and patient histories to better understand the connections to vaping. While the cause is still unknown, there are some patterns: The ailments mostly strike young men with a median age of 19 who have used e-cigarettes with THC or nicotine, and the lung damage many of them suffer is so severe that many end up in the ICU or on ventilators. The epidemic also coincides with a surge in popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers, as a recent survey found that 21 percent of 12th-graders vaped in 2018—almost double the number who had in 2017.
City, state and federal health agencies—as well as the $2.6 billion e-cigarette industry—are belatedly responding to the escalating crisis. The Food and Drug Administration (which has yet to conduct safety tests or trials on vaping products) has proposed a ban on the flavored e-cigarettes preferred by young people, and the CDC has urged teens and other consumers to stay away from bootleg vaping devices and street cannabis. Walmart has stopped selling e-cigarettes and Juul Labs, the industry leader in e-cigarettes, has pulled controversial advertising that was clearly targeting young people.
Unfortunately, these efforts are a patchwork solution to an extremely complex problem. To truly protect the public, we need a tough crackdown on e-cigarette sales across the board in every state, to allow time for doctors and other medical experts to determine the cause (or causes) of the illnesses and for policymakers to `cigarette ban might pose difficulties for those who use these products as a smoking-cessation aid, it is absolutely necessary to confront this problem. Eventually, we must also enact strong legal measures to curb teenage vaping—such as establishing a nationwide legal age of 21 to buy e-cigarettes—to prevent a new generation from being addicted to vaping nicotine or marijuana.