Vaping related deaths and injuries are piling up every day with CDCP (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reporting 1,080 lung damage in over 48 states along with the Virgin Islands that have confirmed 18 deaths from 15 states. A 19th death was reported in Connecticut recently.
Principal Deputy Director of CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat said the outbreak is “continuing at a brisk pace,” during a news briefing on Thursday.
Aside from the latest injury and death count, Mayo Clinic researchers released a report on Wednesday indicating that the lung damage in some patients looked like lung damage. Schuchat understandably deemed this issue as a crucial one.
States have acted in response to these reports without delay. Massachusetts ordered an immediate ban on all vaping products for four months straight. Rhode Island and Michigan in New York, as well as Los Angeles, had rushed to ban all e-liquids (flavors used in e-cigarettes. Sale of e-cigarette salts have been banned in San Francisco and The health department of California has issued an advisory to the public to stop vaping.
After the legislative situation unfolds, few experts say that the problems associated with electronic cigarettes and vaping are separate and being merged. The issue arising related to lung injuries and deaths, apparently out of nowhere, has created the confusion and fear about what products might be causing this issue and how many people are at risk due to these products.
The e-cigarettes and other vaping devices started gaining the popularity among smokers and non-smokers in 2007, taking the market by storm. The upright number and the wide range of products available in the retail, as well as, black market comprising products that contains THC have started determining the cause of the injuries and deaths.
E-cigarettes or E-joints?
In more than 1,000 cases of vaping related lung injuries, the public health department hasn’t identified even a single culprit. The officials reported many of the cases revealed that patients have been vaping THC.
Ned Sharpless, the Acting FDA commissioner said, the testing done by the agency led the FDA to believe that people were mixing pure THC to dilute the product with other oils and that creates untested and illegal vaping e-liquids.
During Thursday’s news briefing Schuchat noted that 500 patients sampled reported using products that contains THC are more than 78 percent.
“A significant fraction of the THC products are contaminated with vitamin E acetate,” Sharpless said on Sept 25th during a congressional hearing.
The oil added in the product is usually used on the skin, “no business being in a pulmonary product.” Sharpless added. He concluded saying that vitamin E acetate was added as a cutting agent.
In marijuana, THC is an active ingredient and since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, products that contain THC cannot be regulated by the FDA (or any similar agency). According to Federal officials, states that have approved recreational or medicinal marijuana are subject to regulating the safety of those products.
To crackdown adulterated THC pods or counterfeit would need several federal agencies to come together including the Drug Enforcement Administration to work with the states for identification of the sources that contaminate pods and then helps to eliminate them. Also, to arrest people who manufacture and sell these products illegally or even block imported vaping products and supplies coming to the U.S. from other countries, says Suchuchat and Sharpless in the hearing on 25th September.
Dr. Michael Siegel, professor at Boston University School of Public Health Department says instead of putting all the vaping products into one category of “e-cigarette”, THC devices should be referred to as “e-joints” or “vape pens”.
The discrimination between the products is important, especially since several states have already ordered an emergency ban on all e-cigarettes.
Siegel added, “Their whole rationale is that we have people dying from the outbreak. They’re declaring an emergency because of marijuana vaping products and the response is to ban e-cigarettes. It’s a complete non sequitur.”
What is the epidemic of Vaping?
Apart from the recent outbreak of vaping related lung deaths and illnesses, the public health department has used the phrase “vaping epidemic” to explain the popularity for vaping devices like Juul. The company’s recently appointed CEO said, “The company’s future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry.”
While talking to ABC news a Juul spokesperson said, “We appreciate the work of the CDC, FDA, and other public health authorities, and are confident that they will get to the bottom of this issue.”
Siegel said, “Completely conflated the two issues, I think a lot of damage was done by that” until a news conference happened in September when CDC officials pointed towards the risks of THC devices.
Brian King, CDC spokesperson said, “While this investigation is ongoing, CDC recommends that people consider refraining from using an e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC.”
The advocated and officials are concerned about the popularity growing of these products among teenagers because they have a high nicotine concentrated level. The high concentration of nicotine has a harmful effect on the brain developing that includes addiction which is a completely different thing to worry about apart from a spate of acute lung damage and deaths happening across the nation.
While agencies have reported a decline rate of tobacco use among teenagers (middle and high school students) prior to the recent popularity of e-cigarettes, teenagers using e-cigarettes has raised drastically since 2017, as per a survey done by government funded agency which released last month.
More than non-smokers, teenagers who smoked electronic cigarettes were likely to experiment with regular tobacco cigarettes as per the research.
The worry about flavored e-cigarettes is associated with the aforesaid trend, given that a lot of young adults claim they were introduced to the device through the medium of flavored products. Experts and officials are understandably concerned about companies trying to target younger customers through flavors that conceal the taste of tobacco.
Citing the rising rate of youth use, e-cigarette companies have resorted to market their products through social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, where young people are more likely to come across their ads that promote nicotine products as a trustworthy alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes.
Is smoking e-cigarettes safe?
In addition to federal investigation and vaping outbreak, there is a third issue: Experts do not know in and out of e-cigarettes. How safe or unsafe the nicotine e-cigarettes are compared to the traditional tobacco cigarettes.
The CDC official has warned, “the aerosol that users inhale and exhale from e-cigarettes can potentially expose both themselves and bystanders to other harmful substances, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.”
An associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander said, “I wish we could have these dramatic, awesome data sets showing us the answer.” who is researching on the long-term effects of an e-cigarette use on public health.
The current research of Crotty Alexander is on animals which can’t be extrapolated to apply on human health but based on her researched she said that she believes over the time, vaping is going to cause disease.
“It’s hard to believe that e-cigarettes would be equally harmful or worse than conventional tobacco, because conventional tobacco is so bad.” she added while saying non-smokers should avoid picking this habit.
“Potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products. Still, have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking,” said CDC official while advising about e-cigarettes.
As a result, while such bans on e-cigarettes will help non-smoker teenagers to leave smoking, it will potentially harm those adults who were trying to quit traditional tobacco smoking. According to Crotty Alexander, forgoing an absolute ban has a great amount of risk. She said, “We are setting up this whole new generation of non-smokers to become addicted to nicotine.”
What are your thoughts about a complete ban on vaping products? If the ban doesn’t lift soon, what alternative do we have to quit traditional smoking? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.