Vapers. They’ve become as popular and commonplace as smokers were in the 1980’s, and just like land based casinos have been eclipsed by online casinos, they’ve all but cornered the nicotine market. We’ve all seen them, alone and in groups, sucking on electronic boxes and sticks for dear life before releasing a cloud of vapour that tries its best to smell pleasant – and until Donald Trump did an about-face at the 11th hour, it looked like that smell was about to get a whole lot worse.
In September, Trump said that his administration would drive a ban on the many different flavours that are added to the liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes. The move came in response to not only the rapidly increasing number of underage vapers, but also to a serious lung disease that is related to vaping.
However, on 4 November, following protests and a social media campaign, Trump refused to approve the long-threatened ban. According to reports, the president was worried about losing votes. Protestors had claimed that the ban would cause people to return to or to start smoking cigarettes, and that it would negatively affect businesses. Whatever the politics, the question remains unanswered – should vaping or vaping with flavours be banned?
Core Issues: Kids and Health
Around the time that Trump announced his proposed ban, New York governor Andrew Cuomo decided on his own course of action. He used an emergency executive action to place a state-wide ban on the sale of e-cigarettes that taste like anything other than tobacco.
Cuomo said his ban came after an investigation into the lung illness associated with vaping in the state. He also expressed concern at the rising number of teenagers who vape.
Do Trump, Cuomo, and e-cigarettes’ many other opponents have a point, or are they just being fuddy-duddy killjoys? The facts speak for themselves. Check it out:
Although e-cigarettes have been widely available for more than 10 years, they have never enjoyed anything like their current level of popularity. A 2017 study revealed that adolescents vaped more than they used any other tobacco product.
In that year, the number of middle and high school students who vape soared to 2.1 million. No wonder e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL was able to surpass a US$10 billion evaluation faster than even Facebook could (sorry for you, Zuckerberg).
What about that lung disease? Could that just be scaremongering? Not likely. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 13 November 2019, 2,172 cases of lung injury associated with vaping had been reported to the centre from all US states except Alaska, as well as from the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.
There have been 42 confirmed deaths in connection with vaping-related lung disease. Of the total number of patients, 14% were under the age of 18, 40% were between the ages of 18 and 24, 25% were 25 to 34 years old, and 21% were 35 or older. Sadly, the figures show that this is something that affects a predominantly younger demographic.
Is a Flavour Ban Enough?
Could banning the sweet flavours used in e-cigarettes be enough to address the problems of underage use and lung disease? Probably not. At best, it merely would be an oversimplification of a more complex issue.
For starters, research published by the CDC indicated that most samples of vaping products it tested in connection with the lung disease outbreak contained THC, cannabis’ most important psychoactive compound. The centre also expressed concern about the role of vitamin E acetate, another vaping ingredient, in the disease.
Another problem with banning the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes is that underage users already know how to create their own flavoured cartridges. Such a ban would be a minor inconvenience at worst.
No Easy Way Forward
The question of banning flavoured vapes or of banning vaping altogether is not any easy one to answer. The reality is that, even after the most damning findings regarding traditional cigarettes, they were not banned even though smoking in public places was subject to tighter controls.
The problem of underage smoking was dealt with not only by raising the legal age at which one may smoke, but also by changing smoking’s public image. A concerted effort to ban advertising, restrict how and when it could be shown in various media, and to move away from the Marlboro/Camel Man image, helped make smoking appear less cool than it ever had been.
The problem is that it is going to be difficult to reinvent that wheel. The only possible solutions, other than a total ban, is to continue to raise awareness regarding the dangers of vaping, and to try to find out and to address the real reasons so many young people start using e-cigarettes in the first place.