Officials Still Looking For Cause Of Lung Injuries
The federal government is expected to announce next week a decision to take off the market all e-cigarettes except those that taste like tobacco and menthol, according to the Wall Street Journal.
While the decision is aimed at halting the rise in vaping among teenagers, menthol vaping products would still be allowed, according to the report.
Meanwhile, federal, state and local officials are continuing to investigate what’s causing lung injuries among users of e-cigarettes.
As of Oct. 29, 1,888 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injuries have been reported in every state except Alaska. Thirty-seven deaths have been confirmed in 24 states as of Oct. 29, according to the CDC.
The proposed federal ban of flavored juices has been met with criticism from vaping advocates, including manufacturers and the owner of shops where vaping products are sold. Some have tried to shift the blame from vaping products to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
Health officials have been reluctant to blame THC because, while it has been present in most of the samples tested to date, it does not account for all the injuries that have been reported. According to the CDC, “the only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products.”
At the same time, THC use has been associated with a wide range of health effects, particularly with prolonged heavy use. The CDC recommends that anyone with marijuana use disorder should seek evidence-based treatment by a health care provider.
For anti-smoking advocates, the current controversy around vaping evokes a strong sense of deja vu.
Lung cancer was relatively unknown until the rise of cigarette smoking during World War I. As cigarette smoking grew more popular, so did the prevalence of lung cancer, until, by the early 1950s it was “the most common cancer diagnosed in American men” according to the American Cancer Society.
The tobacco industry fought research showing a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer and heart disease through a campaign of deliberate misinformation, sowing confusion through dubious scientific studies. Cigarette manufacturers even added filters—which were subsequently shown to be entirely ineffective—to address health concerns.
Today, e-cigarette and vaping manufacturers—many of them funded or owned outright by cigarette manufacturers—market their products as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking or even as smoking cessation products.
“They’re basically copying big tobacco’s techniques from the past,” said Emily Steer of the Mercer County Health Department.
Steer, who has led smoking cessation classes at the health department for years, said she’s never seen anyone actually quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes.
“I haven’t met anyone who tried to quit smoking by vaping who succeeded in quitting vaping,” Steer said. “Most of them either went back to smoking or they do both.”
For years, Steer worked with anti-smoking groups such as Teens Against Tobacco Use to ban smoking in public areas such as school campuses. Today, she said she finds people vaping in no smoking areas.
When vaping came out in 2007, Steer said she was hopeful it would be a tool in helping people quit. But vaping has not turned out to be that tool. Many users have no idea how much nicotine they’re consuming. A Juul pod is the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes, according to the company’s website.
“We’ve found smokers going through three pods a day,” Steer said. “Vape products don’t go out. You can keep hitting on them and hitting on them and hitting on them.”
It is especially galling that defenders say vaping saves lives.
“No professional medical association of any kind—none—has said that e-cigarettes of any kind is safer.,” said Angela Brumley-Shelton, a tobacco treatment specialist adjunct instructor with the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. “They are not FDA-approved, so you do not knows what’s in them.”
Last year, Altria, the owner of Philip Morris, bought into vaping in a big way, paying $12.8 billion to purchase Juul, the largest maker of vaping products. Last week, as a rising tide of bad news has rocked the company—a former employee has sued Juul, alleging that Juul knowingly sold contaminated pods—Altria announced they were writing off $4.5-billion of their initial investment. Juul has also announced they are laying off 10-percent of their workforce.
At the same time, Altria is looking to stake out territory in the burgeoning cannabis industry. In December of last year, they purchased a 45-percent stake in Cronos Holdings for $1.8 billion. On its website, Cronos boasts having international production and distribution across five continents.
Meanwhile, officials are still trying to determine the cause of the lung injuries. The CDC recommends that people should not:
• Buy any type of e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC, off the street.
• Modify or add any substances to e-cigarette, or vaping, products.
The CDC also recommends that anyone vaping to quit smoking should not return to smoking cigarettes.
For those who want to quit nicotine entirely, the Boyle County Health Department is offering smoking cessation classes. Call 1-859-236-2053. Or call 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669).