Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month announced that the White House is revisiting and enhancing an Obama-era rule that, in an effort to protect consumers, would clamp down on flavored e-cigarettes and vaping devices readily available on the market.
“The Trump administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” said Azar. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”
As a mother, I commend Secretary Azar and the Trump administration for hitting the “Pause” button on the proliferation of potentially harmful flavored e-cigarette and vaping-device products. It’s alarming to me the number of young men coming down with lung-related illnesses from recreational e-cigarette and vaping-device use.
I’ve been haunted for weeks by images of a young man on a ventilator suffering from a mysterious vaping-related injury and applaud the administration for giving medical professionals the time they need to figure out why these products are hurting our young people, as officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they’ve received more than 800 reports of e-cigarette- and vaping-related lung injuries and that authorities still haven’t pinpointed what’s causing the epidemic.
“The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time,” reads a CDC statement. “More information is needed to know whether one or more e-cigarette or vaping products, substances, or brand is responsible for the outbreak.”
What does this mean? Moms are seeing otherwise healthy teenagers and young-adult children suffering on ventilators because of e-cigarettes, Juul and other vaping-device brands. The CDC has recommended that, until a cause is found, people abstain from vaping. The FDA launched a criminal investigation into these businesses and the House held a hearing on Sept. 24 regarding this epidemic.
Thirty-seven people, meanwhile, have died as a result of e-cigarette- and vaping-related use. Those who’ve sustained e-cigarette- or vaping-related injuries are predominantly male and 79% are under 35 years of age. Forty percent are between 18 and 24 years old.
The federal minimum age required to even purchase e-cigarettes or vaping devices is 18 yet a whopping 16 percent of patients that have suffered e-cigarette and vaping-related illnesses are younger than 18 years old, according to the CDC. Clearly, the vaping epidemic is disproportionately affecting our young men and that needs to stop before more fall victim to these devices.
About 25 percent of states have taken the moral high ground and increased the minimum age at which someone can legally purchase tobacco and vaping-related devices to 21 years old. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in May introduced legislation proposing these same age increases apply nationwide. “Unfortunately, it’s reaching epidemic levels,” he told USA Today of the vaping-related horror stories he’s received from constituents.
His proposed legislation is a good start but, obviously, young men are still getting their hands on these harmful products. President Donald J. Trump and Secretary Azar are entirely justified in escalating this issue and choking access to these hazardous products by issuing newly enhanced recommendations for manufacturers.
After all, why give an at-risk demographic even easier access to the very products that could be killing them? This travesty is familiar. I was around in the ‘90s when tobacco giants testified before Congress that nicotine was not “addictive” when they knew the opposite. What are these companies and CEOs up to today? They’ve funneled into two addiction-for-profit industries: marijuana and vaping.
Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris, invested $12.8 billion in Juul last December and invested $1.8 billion in the marijuana company Cronos Group. Phillip Morris International has created a “nonprofit,” the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, to promote the company’s e-cigarette products. Out of the tobacco industry, Altria contributed the most money to candidates and committees in the 2018 election cycle.
RJR Tobacco (Reynolds) produces the e-cigarette VUSE and has now been acquired by British American Tobacco (BAT) which produced its first electronic cigarette in 2013. The U.S. Tobacco Company is a subsidiary of Altria and is now known as the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company. In 2012, Lorillard Tobacco Company purchased “blu,” an e-cigarette brand and became the first tobacco company to invest in the e-cigarette market. It has since been acquired by Reynolds.
The bottom line is this: No one in the halls of government should be allowing easy access to the very chemical that could be injuring and killing our young men. Shame on any leader who caves to the demands of big business over the health and well-being of his or her constituents. Now it’s time to issue the guidance as soon as possible and give investigators and medical professionals the opportunity they need to discover what’s killing our young men