Snuff them now.
President Trump’s call for an end to flavored e-cigarettes, which particularly appeal to young people, couldn’t come at a better time.
E-cigarette use, also called vaping, may pose a serious health hazard for users of any age.
At least 450 e-cigarette users in 33 states may have been affected by a mysterious illness, including five in North Carolina. Symptoms can include severe shortness of breath, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
Most of the patients who have been admitted to hospitals are young people, which is no surprise; young people represent the majority of e-cigarette users. But the ages of the North Carolina patients range from 16 to 72.
In an August column in the News & Record, Guilford County Health Director Merle Green called the problem an “emergency.”
“Although many cases will surely not reach a point of hospitalization,” she wrote, “the number of cases is expected to grow. Guilford County Health officials are confident that there is probably more illness from vaping than is documented officially.”
Nationally, six deaths have been associated with the illness. The outbreak was first reported on July 25.
“We encourage all North Carolinians to avoid vaping products and e-cigarettes,” State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson told WTVD in Raleigh in August.
“Although the causes of the recently reported cases are still under investigation, this is a reminder of the potentially severe health consequences of vaping.”
No single vaping product has been connected to all of the cases, although many appear to involve products containing THC, a compound found in marijuana, and vitamin E acetate, a derivative of vitamin E.
It may sound healthy, but essentially vitamin E acetate is a grease that is converted into vapor when super-heated in a vaping device. After cooling, it reverts to a grease in the lungs, which are meant to process only gases.
It’s still not clear what is making so many people sick. To complicate matters, some patients reported buying products off the street.
What we do know for certain is that vaping is even more dangerous than we thought. And we had already known about some of its hazards, especially as we saw it luring underage users who hadn’t even smoked regular cigarettes before. In North Carolina, e-cig use among high school students rose a staggering 894% between 2011 and 2017, according to the North Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey.
The battery-powered devices, which heat liquid nicotine and convert it into a vapor, seem high-tech and edgy. Early on, e-cig makers offered flavored mixtures that seemed designed to appeal to youth — a practice that has been curtailed to some degree. But the nicotine levels are still high enough to be harmful and addictive.
And while it’s true that e-cigs can be used to help regular smokers reduce and eventually quit their smoking habit, the dangers outweigh the benefits.
“There is some public health need for alternative nicotine delivery devices to be available for adults to get off of combustible tobacco,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last week. “But with now 5 million children regularly using e-cigarettes, we can’t allow the benefits to adults from that to come at the expense of our children.”
The state of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against one popular e-cig maker, Juul Labs Inc., in May, contending that it targets underage youths with its products. Similar lawsuits against eight other e-cig companies were announced last month.
North Carolina for decades was known as a tobacco state, and part of the state’s economy still relies on the cash crop. But the more we learn about dangers of tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine — as well as the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke — the wiser the advice to never start smoking in the first place.
Many smokers and vapers find that once they start, they can’t stop. Some spend years trying to quit. Some fail.
The best policy for everyone is to avoid nicotine. Period.