Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Yakima Herald-Republic. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Back in the day, slouching teens would skulk behind the gym or huddle in the bathroom to take a smoke break, leaving a telltale carcinogenic cloud and rubbed-out butts in their wake.
These days, as with so many things, too many young people have turned to high-tech gizmos to serve as their nicotine delivery system. Oh, they still skulk and slouch — that’s an immutable adolescent trait — but now they use battery-operated electronic vaping pens, infused with liquid nicotine and a bouillabaisse of chemical solvents to get their fix, rather than inhaling the smoke of burned tobacco in rolled paper.
An improvement, right? The so-called e-cigs used for vaping, or Juuling, are believed to be not as harmful as traditional smoking.
Not so fast. The deleterious effects of vaping, several recent studies show, far outweigh any perceived benefits. The juice in a single “pod” is believed to contain as much nicotine as can be found in a whole pack of traditional cigarettes. And nicotine, as anyone who has ever tried to kick a pack-a-day habit can attest, is very addictive. Too, studies have shown that the solvents in the liquid that is vaped contain high levels of toxicity and may be carcinogenic in their own right.
It is not our intention to impinge on an adult’s personal freedom by suggesting that e-cigs be banned — though we hasten to add that vapers, like smokers, of any age take a long look at the research showing numerous adverse health ramifications. Some longtime smokers have used vaping to wean off traditional cigarettes.
Our concern lies with the alarmingly popularity of vaping among teens and young adults. More than 2 million middle- and high-school students are current e-cigarette users, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. A 2016 Heath Youth Survey found that 13 percent of Washington teens have vaped, more than twice the number who said they smoke traditional cigarettes. Many in the survey were unaware of the health dangers or even that the juice contains nicotine.
The most chilling datum: According to the journal JAMA Pediatrics, teens who vape are twice as likely to become regular smokers within a few years.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration finally weighed in on the health threats of teen vaping and issued an ultimatum to Juul Labs and other leading vaping makers to keep the devices away from teens. The FDA sent a warning letter threatening fines to retailers caught selling e-cigarettes to anyone under 18 and gave vape makers 60 days to show how they plan to eliminate teen use.
The industry has come under fire from health-care providers and educators for marketing practices that tacitly — and, occasionally, blatantly — target adolescents.
Not since the days of Joe Camel have nicotine peddlers been so obvious in their sales pitch. Juul Labs is the biggest offender. It produces a sleek vaporizer that not only looks like a computer flash drive but can be recharged through a computer’s USB outlet. Vape juice comes in bright, candy-colored packaging and the flavors are meant to satisfy one’s sweet tooth as well as one’s nicotine-craving bloodstream. According to vaping360.com, the most popular flavors are mango, cool mint, crème brulee and something called “fruit medley.” Tellingly, way down on the favorite’s list is “Virginia tobacco.”
Teens who otherwise wouldn’t think of taking up traditional smoking, experts say, pick up a vape pen for the chemical buzz because of the social buzz around the practice. The Washington state health survey reported that many teens weren’t aware of vaping’s addictive qualities.
Those doubting the addictive nature of vaping would be best served to read Jia Tolentino’s May 14 piece in The New Yorker. An excerpt, or taste, if you will: “I took a sharp experimental inhalation and nearly jumped. It felt as if a tiny ghost had rushed out of the vaporizer and slapped me on the back of my throat. I took another hit, and another. Each one was a white spike of nothing: a pop, a flavored coolness ... As I pulled out of the parking lot, my scalp tingled.”
FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has called teen vaping an “epidemic” and decried “the disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use” resulting in a “path to addiction.”
If vape-device makers do not voluntarily take measures to stop marketing to teens through packaging and candylike flavors, the agency has said it will require them to stop selling the flavored products youth crave. The FDA needs to follow through on its threat, just as the federal government, after years of a hands-off policy, eventually cracked down on traditional cigarette makers’ marketing practices.
Maybe a public-service campaign is needed. How about this for a working title: It’s not cool to Juul.