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Vaping Deaths, Why It’s Now an Epidemic

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The Centers for Disease Control today announcement that the number of vaping-related lung injury deaths has risen to twelve. The vaping epidemic has worsened over the last week with 805 confirmed or probable cases of a mysterious lung disease.

More frustratingly, the specific causes of the illnesses are undetermined. "We do not yet know the specific cause of these lung injuries," the CDC said in a statement. "The investigation has not identified any specific e-cigarette or vaping product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) or substance that is linked to all cases."

Off of the heels of confirmed deaths including two in California, two in Kansas and one each in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Oregon, the Food and Drug Administration launched a criminal probe last week into the spike in vaping-related illnesses. The Mississippi death was announced by state officials today as the probe continues.

The efforts come all but a little too late, however, as the ‘probable patient cases’ related to vaping and e-cigarettes rises to nearly a thousand across 46 states and one U.S. territory. Ned Sharpless, acting commissioner for the FDA, said under questioning by the House energy and commerce subcommittee that in retrospect, the FDA "should have begun regulating these devices sooner."

FDA Regulations, or lack thereof

In May of 2016, the FDA announced that they would be extending their authority to cover electronic cigarettes and e-liquids. The public also learned that the FDA had already outlined the regulations they planned to enforce on the industry for the first time since e-cigarettes emerged on the market in 2007. The regulation specified that any vaping product or e-cig that was released after February 15, 2007 fell under the same lengthy and expensive FDA approval process as regular tobacco cigarettes.

With mounting pressure from vape companies that the due date of August 8, 2017 to file for approval was basically unachievable, the FDA revised their plan. In July 2017, the FDA announced that they would be adjusting their original ruling to “provide manufacturers additional time to develop higher quality, more complete applications informed by additional guidance from the agency” amongst other reasoning.

The new ruling gave vape companies an extra 5 years with a new due date of August 8, 2022. After the new announcement, however, public health groups sued the FDA to force more timely regulation, a U.S. district court ultimately ordered the FDA to begin the review next year.

This week, the saga took a new turn as the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the vaping epidemic, questioning Sharpless on the agency’s decision in 2017 (under previous commissioner, Scott Gottlieb) to push back an FDA review of the vaping industry.

“I firmly believe that many aspects of the youth vaping epidemic could have been addressed if the FDA had moved forward with reviewing all e-cigarettes on the market when it first had the chance two years ago” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the committee chairman, said, according to CNBC.

Consumer sentiment is changing

Perhaps one positive coming from the ‘outbreak’ would be the increased awareness of the risks of e-cigarettes and vaping. Previously, many Americans believed vaping was harmless, in-part due to advertising messaging that touted vaping as a ‘healthy alternative to smoking.” These claims, along with aggressive marketing to underage consumers, excessive amounts of nicotine, and insufficient labeling has resulted in a slew of lawsuits against Juul, the country's largest electronic cigarette maker.

Consequently, the company announced earlier this week that it will stop running ads in the United States and its CEO has since stepped down.

Following the reports of the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses and deaths, a growing number of Americans say that vaping e-cigarettes is at least as harmful as smoking traditional cigarettes, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Although we can’t be sure what the exact culprit is of the vaping epidemic, many officials and health experts point towards the use of e-cigarettes to smoke street-bought drugs or liquids that contain harmful mixtures of cannabis and other unknown (unregulated) ingredients, sentiment has at least taken a more cautioned approach to the industry as a whole. The national online poll found that 63% of adults in the United States now disagree with the statement that 'vaping is healthier than traditional cigarettes,' up 16% from a similar 2016 Reuters poll.

It also found that 77% said that vaping should be regulated at least as strongly as traditional cigarettes. It sure looks like we are headed there, but is it too late to escape health complications for the thousands of vappers in the U.S. today? As parents, it doesn't make sense to wait for the FDA regulations, and these regulations won't affect off-market, street-bought products anyhow. It’s time to have the conversations with our children today - if you think your child may be vaping, here are some tips on how to prepare for the conversation.

Learn more about the different types of e-cigarette and vaping compounds and signs your child may be vaping.

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