For centuries, human beings have smoked. Be it nicotine, marijuana, opium, or cocaine, our species has been purposefully inhaling toxins to get high. Despite the risks that come, smokers have always been looking for ways to evolve their habits, including the new practice of vaping.
Originally seen as a somewhat healthier alternative to smoking regular cigarettes, vaping and electronic cigarettes have boomed in the market since 2003. Now, nearly 17 years later, people are dying as a result of these vapors and their related illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 26 people have died with another 1,100 reported sick. These outbreaks have caused governments throughout the country to go so far as to issue total bans on all vaping products. With partial bans set to be implemented both here in Oregon and nationally, it should be made clear why people keep dying and getting sick, and why the call for a ban might not be helping.
The push to ban electronic cigarettes (the “pens” people smoke from) is controversial in spite of concerns about smoking increasing. A 2018 survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that 37.3% of all high school seniors reported that they vaped. This rate rose nearly 10% from the following year, as 20% of students said they were solely nicotine vapers. High-schoolers aren’t just smoking nicotine, as some are making a switch to pot. These reports from the NIH found roughly 13% of twelfth graders had moved onto marijuana. It’s not just older teens taking up the habit, but younger ones as well. With a wide variety of flavored vapor and easy to use (and easy to hide) vape pens, some middle-schoolers have joined in with nearly 11% of eighth graders confessing to using.
However, not everyone who vapes is a developing child. Researchers for the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that in 2018 that “roughly 10.8 million American adults are currently using e-cigarettes” with more than half of them under the age of 35. Those most likely to vape are coincidentally college-aged adults in their 20s, people who are unemployed, regular cigarette smokers, and those who identify as LGBT.
As more-and-more young people start to vape, some of our country’s leaders are attempting to curb these rates dramatically. Following the recent string of U.S. deaths and illnesses, the Oregon Health Authority announced two Oregonians had lost their lives with another eight ill. With this in mind, Oregon is set to join the growing list of states hoping to do something about the crisis. Gov. Kate Brown recently issued an Executive Order temporarily banning all flavored products in the state.
The signed order outlined a ban that would last six months and took effect yesterday. The order calls for “agencies to disclose ingredients in products, develop better warning labels and the start of a public health initiative to discourage vaping.” In signing her order, Brown said, “(her) first priority is to safeguard the health of all Oregonians.” The string of deaths leave it clear there is an issue happening with vaping, but the issue might not be what Brown and others think it is.
The CDC announced that of the illnesses reported in the United States so far, more than three quarters of them were a result of vaping products containing THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). While it remains unknown which chemicals or specific products are causing these lung injuries, reports focusing on patients from Illinois and Wisconsin found that cartridges “prefilled” with THC were the cause of most injuries. As laws in these states vary, with marijuana being legal in Illinois but not Wisconsin, many patients noted that instead of smoking regulated, safely-made vapor that could be bought from a smoke shop, they obtained their products from “informal” sources (such as from a dealer or a friend).
With bans on vape set to be enacted across the country, the possibility remains that more people will be pushed back to smoking traditional cigarettes.