Graphic pictures of individuals with head and neck cancer or gruesome close-ups of the mouth are strewn across cigarette packaging, eliciting a natural aversion to such products. From 1965 to 2018, cigarette smoking rates have fallen from 42.6% to 13.7%. This decline can be explained by the evidence-based detrimental health effects that researchers have since documented and the increased risk of disease that
comes with the habit.
Although this formidable decrease is noteworthy and signifies the efficacy of health campaigns, it is unfortunately counterbalanced by the emergence of another worthy opponent: the advent of e-cigarettes. The “classic” cigarette’s counterpart features a new modern twist with countless customizable features and flavors. Unlike a combustible cigarette, its packaging is bright and colorful, and the grim pictures are nowhere to be found.
The inviting appearance, coupled with celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Johnny Depp and others, further normalize the habit. The amount of money companies, like JUUL, for example, spend on social media campaigns and celebrity partnerships can be directly correlated with revenue.
Companies initially developed e-cigarettes to help individuals quit smoking. An analysis of 61 studies by the FDA found that e-cigarette use was more effective than other methods to quit smoking. All in all, it is apparent from a scientific perspective, that there is a known benefit to keeping them on the market.
However, the drawbacks are considerable, especially considering that only 12.6% of those trying to quit use vapes as a method of weaning off smoking.
Taking into account this statistic, it is apparent that a majority of e-cigarette users vape recreationally. Being a fairly recent invention, a lack of long-term data has clouded our ability to provide and present definitive evidence against its use.
Concerningly, there are already known adverse effects of nicotine on brain development and behavior change. However, in 2019, 15 years after the invention of e-cigarettes, we can confirm that more than 2800 cases and 68 deaths were reported due to EVALI, or e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. It is also linked to greater risks of heart attacks and lung disease.
After its invention in the 1800s, researchers did not link the cigarette to lung disease until the 1950s. Although opponents may contend that the scientific advancement of the last century can give us unparalleled insight and cannot be compared to science today, that is not true.
No amount of science can accelerate a person’s lifespan. Given the preliminary nature of all data and that long-term health outcomes are impossible to determine now, it is safe to say that the health effects we are already observing may well be the tip of the iceberg. The downstream effects on children of those who vaped and the elevated nicotine exposure are not well-known but are better to avoid given the sheer lack of knowledge of the impact of these products on the body.
As if the effect of nicotine on the body is not detrimental enough, there are proven links between vaping and the likelihood of smoking in the future. Adolescents who use e-cigarettes are 3.6 times more likely to report using combustibles later in life. Another study demonstrated that teens who use nicotine liquid in e-cigarettes were 3.6 to four times more likely to use marijuana in the next two years.
White House legislation makes it clear that the economic benefits and lobbyists will always win, given the industry’s record profits that seem to keep climbing year after year. In addition, courts cite the removal of using vaping as an aid to quitting smoking as a valid reason for keeping the nicotine market alive.
The FDA was opposed to the commercialization of vapes from the beginning, citing predictions of negative health effects on teenagers, especially given the appeal of flavors that would easily get children addicted.
Despite efforts and court cases, the judges sided with vaping companies repeatedly. This, coupled with the change in parties in the White House and the slow lawmaking process, essentially left the market unregulated.
Just as parties were attempting to negotiate, JUUL became popular and widely used, and any attempts to regulate these products were rendered futile.