With A Ban Looming, Are Vapes And E-Cigarettes Safe? An Explainer

Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced plans to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in an attempt to tackle the growing epidemic of use amongst children and teens. If you’re someone who vapes, you’re probably feeling all sorts of ways about this right now. We get it, you don’t have to be a kid to want to satisfy your nicotine addiction and taste mango creme coffee at the same time. But the thing is, these things do appeal a lot more to children than if they were tobacco flavored, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nicotine can harm the development of the adolescent brain — which continues to develop until the age of 25 — causing damage to the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. So the last thing we need, societally speaking, is a bunch of kids and young adults hooked on nicotine before they’ve even finished growing.

Since the president’s announcement, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar further elaborated that the FDA is looking to finalize policies that would pull all flavored e-cigarettes from the market in a tweet from yesterday morning, so buckle up because if you’ve been loading up your JUUL with cucumber or mint-flavored pods, this is definitely happening and those pods are about to be as rare as a Cuban cigar in 1962.

I just announced with @POTUS and @FDACommissioner that we will be finalizing policies that will clear flavored e-cigarettes from the market. New provisional data show that youth use continues to rise rapidly, and we will not stand idly by.

— Secretary Alex Azar (@SecAzar) September 11, 2019

President Trump also addressed growing concerns about the general safety of vaping in regards to a recent outbreak of illnesses and death tied to the use of vape pens and e-cigarettes for both nicotine and marijuana. On Friday, September 6th, the CDC reported as many as five deaths and more than 450 possible cases of severe lung injury and illness tied to the use of e-cigarettes and vape pens. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the state of Kansas had just reported its first e-cigarette related death, bringing the total to six deaths nationwide.

According to NBC News, all of those cases involved people who reported vaping nicotine, THC or a combination of the two in the days and weeks before becoming sick. As of now, the CDC’s investigation has not identified any specific substance or product that can be linked to all of the cases, so far the only commonality is that a majority of the patients reporting using products with liquids contain cannabinoid products.

While 450 illnesses and six deaths is an exceptionally small amount considering that currently, at least 10.8 million adults in the United States use e-cigarettes (according to a 2018 study by the Annals of Internal Medicine), they’re large enough numbers to be a concern and considering the CDC has officially recommended that people avoid vaping or using e-cigarettes until further research is done, it might not be a bad idea to toss that JUUL in a drawer. Or, at the very least, lessen your use until we get more info.

Below are some of the other issues and concerns that have developed about vaping as the conversation has intensified:

There Is Little Regulation

As of right now whether you vape JUUL pods, vape juice, or marijuana concentrates you are consuming a product that is completely unregulated by the FDA. There is no current organization tasked with properly vetting the vaporized products on the market, meaning it’s impossible to know which chemicals have been added to the mixtures, or if the product labels are even accurate in the first place. Nobody really knows what companies are putting into these cartridges and mixtures, even if we assume they have the best of intentions.

At the very least we do know what a majority of vape liquids absolutely do contain. According to Green Entrepreneur, marijuana and nicotine-infused vape juice contains polyethylene glycol, a cutting agent that keeps vape liquids evenly mixed and consistent, propylene glycol in the case of cannabis-infused liquids to help produce even vape draws, and vegetable glycerin, which is added to help generate large vape cloud so dorks can feel cool every time they take a big drag. We’ve all been there.

While the FDA has indeed labeled these cutting agents completely safe for human ingestion, ingestion isn’t exactly the same as inhalation. Surely the effects of these cutting agents will be scrutinized as these conversations continue.

The Devices Have A History Of Exploding

In case you forgot, there have been a number of reports of vaporizing devices exploding in the faces of their users. According to the British Medical Journal, between 2015 and 2017 there were an estimated 2,035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries reported to US hospitals. According to a CNN report as recently as June 2019, a 17-year-old suffered broken teeth and a hole in his jaw after his e-cigarette exploded in his face. The report also detailed several deaths and injuries caused by exploding vapes, such as a man in Texas who died after shrapnel from the explosion tore his carotid artery and a teen in Oregon who almost lost an eye to damage from a vape explosion.

Self-Regulating Consumption Poses Problems

According to JUUL’s website, one 5% JUUL pod is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes in both amount and nicotine strength, and pods are sold in either two or four-pod packs. If you’re killing multiple JUUL pods a week you need to understand that while it doesn’t feel like you’re a chain smoker — you’re essentially are, in terms of how much nicotine is entering your bloodstream.

When it comes to vaporizing THC, things are a whole lot more complicated. Though THC concentrates and oils can sometimes enjoy a connoisseur level of quality and processing, Time reports that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, these THC products are again, also completely unregulated by the FDA.

Meaning even the potency of a product is not guaranteed. And, obviously, modulating consumption is harder when you’re impaired.

Effects Of Nicotine And THC On The Body

For a second, lets put aside the 450 reported illnesses and six deaths, if you’re looking to consume nicotine or THC, vaping seems like the smartest and healthiest way to do it. But too much of anything is simply unhealthy for you. According to a 2015 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, nicotine poses several health hazards such as an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal disorders, a decreased immune response and affects cell proliferation, oxidative stress, apotheosis, and DNA mutation which can lead to cancer.

The study found nicotine’s biological effects to be widespread and extend to all systems of the body, including renal and reproductive systems.

THC, long touted as a cure-all by hippies and anyone from California, is more complicated and less thoroughly studied. Because of its categorization as a Schedule 1 drug, not a lot of studies exist on the long-term effects of THC consumption currently. We do know that cannabis use affects short term memory, has adverse effects on brain development in adolescents, but also contains a whole host of therapeutic effects for those suffering from Parkinson’s, seizures, anxiety, Tourettes, glaucoma, cancer, depression, and sleep disorders.

At the very least THC is a known immunomodulator. According to a study by the University of South Florida College of Medicine, heavy marijuana users showed impaired immunological functions which in itself contains both positive and adverse effects, so if you’re consuming marijuana on an everyday basis your immune system is always functioning differently than it’s supposed to. This can lead to a decrease in inflammation, which is good, but it can also lead to your immune system slacking off on the job, which is bad.

They Create Waste

Okay, so this one doesn’t exactly harm your health directly and has to do more specifically with JUUL Pods and other single-use plastic pods but these things can create a lot of waste. Sure, refillable and more eco-friendly methods do exist, but not everyone is willing to go through the extra effort to be less wasteful.

According to a study published by the American Public Health Association, e-cigarette capsules and nicotine pods contain plastics, electronic circuitry, and nicotine residue that can leak heavy metals such as mercury, lead, bromines, and battery acid into the ground which can take years to break down in the natural environment. While no studies yet exist on just how much litter is be created by single-use nicotine pods, all you have to do is open your eyes and look around. One day, when the human race is gone and aliens land on our planet to try and figure out where it all went wrong, they’ll just find JUUL pods floating in a dead ocean, and be like, “Oh, plastic. Yeah, we got rid of that one a long time ago.”

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None of this is to say, “don’t vape.” That’s not really us. The point is that further study is needed. And, with the industry coming under scrutiny, studies are sure to come.

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