The Trump administration unveiled a plan to clear the market of unauthorized, non-tobacco flavored e-cigarette products in response to a recent outbreak of lung-disease linked to vaping.
Kenneth Ward, a professor and director of the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Memphis, is working on models of how this situation would play out.
“What we are doing is trying to use statistical modeling predicting [if] the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) makes certain changes, what the likely consequences will be,” Ward said. “They have already disallowed flavorings for cigarettes, but with other products they allow all sorts of flavors, and those appeal to adolescents.”
The crackdown on vaping products is coming as a response to heightened concern about the short and long term effects of vaping.
The FDA released a statement warning customers to avoid THC vape products and products containing Vitamin E acetate.
“While the FDA does not have enough data presently to conclude that vitamin E acetate is the cause of the lung injury in these cases, the agency believes it is prudent to avoid inhaling this substance,” the FDA said.
The statement also said many patients have admitted to using illicit THC products, and the FDA asks that vape users concerned about their health get care from their health provider.
Eliminating flavored vape product is one of several actions the FDA will be taking to combat the epidemic of youth vaping. Other actions include prohibiting companies such as Juul from marketing unauthorized modified products to adolescent consumers.
“Even though vape is being marketed as a way to help adults stop smoking, it’s actually being used by younger people who wouldn’t smoke if vape wasn’t available,” Ward said. “The flavorings that they use are a part of that problem. Most adults who smoke a pack a day aren’t really interested in mango-flavored vape to help them stop smoking.”
Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless released a statement regarding the FDA’s efforts to reduce tobacco usage.
“The tremendous progress we’ve made in reducing youth tobacco use in the U.S. is jeopardized by this onslaught of e-cigarette use,” Sharpless said. “Nobody wants to see children becoming addicted to nicotine.”
Ward said a recent poll of high school students showed that over 20% of seniors have used electronic cigarettes in the last month.
“These cases go back several years, they’re getting a lot of attention now,” Ward said. “There have been studies that show that adolescents vaping are at higher risk for developing bronchitis or new cases of asthma.”
Beyond flavoring, there is some concern about people putting illicit substances in their e-cigarettes and modifying vape devices using home repair tools.
Ward said contamination in the lungs could be one contributor to averse health effects due to vaping. He also said although the contamination could come from putting foreign fluids in their devices, poorly regulated flavored vapes or malfunctioning e-cigarettes, more research needs to be done.
“It’s really the wild west; the vape products just aren’t all that tightly regulated,” Ward said. “Regardless of what the feds decide, individual jurisdictions have taken the matter into their own hands: Michigan, San Francisco, etc. It’s hard to know what exactly will come of this, but I think the media attention will spur public action.”