The dangers of relatively new products are rarely understood, which makes them difficult to regulate. Government watchdogs are put in a ‘wait-and-see’ position. Meanwhile, early users of products like e-cigarettes begin using based on the industry hype – it’s like a cigarette, but it’s safe. In a concern about their real cigarette habit, smokers jump to the ‘safe’ alternative while young people gravitate to the new, cool thing that makes them look, in their own minds, more mature.
Then the evidence starts to accumulate. Vaping, as it’s referred to, is like smoking cigarettes, but it may be as unsafe, though in different ways. This new guilty pleasure may be responsible for 450 reported lung disease cases and at least five deaths so far.
As a result, the watchdogs are lining up. The American Medical Association (AMA) has called on Americans to stop using electronic cigarettes of all kinds until scientists get a better grip on the cause of these illnesses. As one of the country’s most influential physician groups, the AMA urged its members to inform patients about the dangers of e-cigarettes including its toxins and carcinogens. And they asked doctors to promptly report any suspected lung disease cases related to the use of e-cigarettes to their state or local health department.
That recommendation followed the advice of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggested people not use e-cigarette products while they are investigating the cause(s) of this flood of severe lung disease cases related to vaping. The CDC reports that many, but not all, cases involved vaporized oils containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis. On another track, they said that some laboratories have identified vitamin E acetate in product samples as a possible cause of the illnesses.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been under growing pressure to curb the rise in teenage use of e-cigarettes. This trend coincided with the increasing popularity of Juul e-cigarettes. AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris argued, “We must not stand by while e-cigarettes continue to go unregulated. We urge the FDA to speed-up the regulation of e-cigarettes and remove all unregulated products from the market.”
The message does get through to some. Megan Constantino, 36, from St. Petersburg, Florida, stopped vaping after receiving reports about vaping-related illnesses and deaths. Like many users of vaping pens, Constantino began using the device after quitting smoking three years ago. Constantino is worried that many people will ignore the warnings.
Public health experts have found no evidence of infectious diseases and believe that these lung disease cases are likely to be associated with chemical exposure. Gregory Conley, President of the American Vaping Association, who advocates that cigarette smokers switch to non-nicotine-based vaping devices, said the AMA should be “ashamed of themselves for playing politics with people’s health and protecting the profits of drug dealers.” Many lobbyists make such remarks in defense the profits of their constituents. We’ve seen this before from the fossil fuel and tobacco industries. The question is how many people are willing to believe the emerging science over public relations campaigns?