It’s a big, scary world, and of all the big, scary things out there, vaping is officially the bogeyman du jour.
As of Tuesday, the recent deaths of seven people in the U.S. have been tied to vaping-related illnesses. As Journal reporter Ryan Boetel wrote Sept. 13, hundreds more people across the country have developed serious lung diseases after using e-cigarettes or vaporizers. Considering that the devices have been around only a few years, it’s no wonder alarm bells are sounding.
Health officials and scientists – among them a University of New Mexico pharmaceutical sciences professor – are scrambling for answers in a heartening display of responsiveness.
They’re right to jump headfirst into a search for more data. The deaths and illnesses are especially frightening in light of who the vapers are. Many are longtime smokers who hoped vaporizers would be a stepping stone off cigarette addiction. Others are young people, scared since birth about the dangers of smoking, and who perhaps thought products like watermelon-flavored vaping pods would allow them to have their e-cigarette and smoke it, too.
According to Boetel’s reporting, the mice study that UNM’s Matthew Campen participated in indicated that vaping fluid impaired lung function in mice – regardless of whether nicotine was present.
Last week, President Donald Trump took a strong stance on the matter, walking out a proposal that would effectively ban flavored vaping products. Just as quickly, however, the president appeared to walk it back. It’s unclear where he will land on the issue long term.
And that brings us back to the question of what to do about vaping right now. More research is definitely in order. While youth vaping is absolutely concerning, the devices’ potential to help cigarette smokers quit isn’t something to toss out with yesterday’s ashtray.
Remember that while several hundred people have reportedly been sickened in connection with vaping, those numbers are dwarfed by the numbers of those harmed and killed by use of cigarettes and other tobacco products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use causes more than 7 million deaths per year worldwide, and more than 480,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone.
That averages out to smoking’s having a hand in about one in every five deaths in our country, making it the leading cause of preventable deaths.
Smoking costs almost $170 billion in direct medical care for adults in the U.S., and more than $156 billion in “lost productivity” due to premature smoking-caused death and secondhand smoke exposure.
Those are some big numbers.
If those holding the purse strings of research funding are inclined to doubt whether funding inquiries into health effects of vaping is worth all the bother, recall the protestations of Big Tobacco some decades ago denying the health impacts and addictiveness of its products.
Funding authorities should light up vaping research. What Americans need now is answers and cold, hard data – not another round of smoke and mirrors.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.