To Juul, or not to Juul? We can all agree that electronic cigarettes have infiltrated nearly every segment of pop culture. Now, with an escalation in popularity over the past few years, vaping is spending an immense amount of time in the limelight.
Last September, the Trump Administration announced its intention to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in light of the teenage vaping epidemic and the rapid rise of vaping-related illnesses and lung injuries in the United States. Congress voted to raise the national age minimum for buying of tobacco and vaping products to 21 from 18 at the end of 2019.
Warranted by a public health crisis, these legislative actions address and attempt to regulate underage tobacco and e-cigarette usage. However, they were enacted with a swiftness, tenacity and harmony that directly juxtaposes the disagreements over other public health emergencies like mental health and the gun epidemic — and it is incredibly worrisome.
As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses began in June 2019 and peaked in September, with a steady decline since. The timeline of problem to proposal to resolution spanning within a period of almost six months was a relatively quick turnover compared to the fruitless demand for other legislation to mitigate these other health crises.
With the amount of attention students give the vaping crisis, energy toward other epidemics seems to have been compromised.
The mental health crisis should be of utmost concern, especially with USC’s campus still mourning the unexpected deaths of nine students since the beginning of the school year. Yet vaping has received substantial attention under the pretense that it poses one of the greatest health risks to our population.
The term “e-cigarette” has been misleadingly glamorized in the media due to the accompanying rise in teenage vaping rates, leading to confusion over the distinctions between various vaping mediums. An e-cigarette involves a battery-operated device used to inhale an aerosol containing chemicals, particularly nicotine and flavorings. However, the media often uses the term broadly, clumping a variety of products together. Juuls contain concentrated amounts of nicotine, while marijuana vape pens contain concentrated amounts of THC — the primary compound in marijuana that reaps the “high” effect.
Although researchers still know little about the long-term effects of vaping, previous studies have found that the primary ingredients in e-cigarettes are toxic to cells and have been linked to lung and heart disease, lung injury and cancer. This previous research shows that these e-cigarettes can contain carcinogenic and toxic chemicals that are unhealthy to ingest.
However, the findings associated with the lung injury outbreak do not directly line up with this previous data. In fact, the CDC has linked the lung injury outbreak to Vitamin E acetate, a common additive in THC-containing vaping products. Furthermore, the THC-cartridges containing Vitamin E acetate were mostly sold on the black market.
This just proves that the vaping problem, in which we are investing mounds of time and energy, has ambiguous roots and is misunderstood by both the public and the Trump Administration. Instead of addressing the problem from where the research stems in the black market, the lung injury outbreak is being approached in a holistic manner that misses the root of the issue completely.
Meanwhile, according to a study conducted by Cohen Veterans Network and the National Council for Behavioral Health, despite 56% of Americans seeking help, lack of access to mental health care remains the primary cause of the U.S.’ mental health crisis. The country’s’ gun suicide rate is also 10 times higher than that of other high-income countries, while its gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries. These concrete statistics innately necessitate change, but such action has been cast aside in favor of a misguided confrontation to the lung injury outbreak.
This immense push for action sharply contrasts the rather apathetic administrative approach to the gun and mental health epidemics. Did we send thoughts and prayers to those 2,500 people afflicted with severe lung injuries in the same way we send thoughts and prayers to those 100,000-plus Americans affected by gun violence every year or the 16 million American adults who are affected by major depression every year? This urgency directed toward vaping must be translated to common-sense gun laws and mental health care.
Obviously multiple issues can receive attention at a time. The vaping health crisis needs to be addressed, but the actions taken by the Trump Administration should not treat it as a scapegoat to deter from the other issues that have been neglected. Take these new changes with a grain of salt and continue scrutinizing lackadaisical approaches to detrimental issues while advocating for reform.
At the end of the day, those smokable USB flash drives will not be our downfall. It will be naiveté.