By RAVI MAKAM
There have been 380 cases of lung-related illnesses and six deaths linked to the use of electronic cigarettes, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
This surge of illness has caused mass concern over the effect vaping products have on the body. Over the past week, President Donald Trump and his administration have suggested banning flavored e-cigarettes, a product consistently marketed toward a younger demographic.
The rise in popularity of vaping products has been attributed to marketing strategies, especially by Juul Labs Inc, which advertise vaping products as a healthier alternative to cigarettes and also make them appealing to youth. These strategies have been widely criticized as the health risks of vaping are still unknown and e-cigarette products were originally made for people attempting to quit conventional cigarettes, not for young people who have never used cigarettes.
Some UMW students feel that large companies are to blame for e-cigarette use among young people.
“The vaping epidemic has gotten to a point that we cannot control anymore. It is a very messed up industry because of companies like Juul, who have targeted the youth audience with colorful packaging and fruity flavors,” said Alex Caldas, a senior communication major. “Another issue is that Juul claims that it is a safer alternative to cigarettes, which could be true, but they haven’t been around long enough to prove that as fact.”
On Sept. 9 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to Juul Labs stating that Juul Labs had marketed it’s products as “modified risk tobacco products” without approval from the FDA. The FDA then called for Juul Labs to correct this violation and modify their products to meet FDA regulation requirements.
When asked about the investigation against Juul Labs, acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless responded, “Regardless of where products like e-cigarettes fall on the continuum of tobacco product risk, the law is clear that, before marketing tobacco products for reduced risk, companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does, in fact, pose less risk or is less harmful…Juul has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth.”
Because of Juul’s advertisements claiming their product to be a “satisfying alternative to cigarettes” many users don’t comprehend the full scope of its effects.
According to the Truth Initiative, an organization promoting a tobacco-free life, only 37 percent of people using Juuls and other related products knew that there was nicotine in them. However, the Juul website does feature a banner warning reading, “this product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation into law this year combating teenage use of e-cigarettes by raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The law went into effect on July 1, 2019 and was followed by mixed reactions from students at UMW.
“I do not agree with raising the age to 21, it is ridiculous that I could be drafted to go to war at 18, but I can’t make the personal choice to buy tobacco products until I am 21. It is the same argument I have with the drinking age, I could be forced into war and use deadly weapons, but cannot enjoy a beer legally until 21. It seems backward to me,” said a junior student who asked to remain anonymous.
UMW has taken initiative in this push against the use of e-cigarettes by posting signs around campus reminding students that they have to be 21 or older to use tobacco products, and are prohibited to possess these devices in certain areas around campus, including the residence halls.
The efforts of the UMW campus and the CDC have not gone unnoticed. Jason Gunitu, a senior accounting major, said, “I have definitely noticed more people getting more and more concerned over the long-term effects of vaping… I’ve had friends who have quit after finding out the impact it had on their lungs.”
The CDC reported that some of the illnesses linked to e-cigarettes, which include infections similar to pneumonia and symptoms such as trouble breathing, coughing and sudden loss of breath, were not only from nicotine-related products but also from illegally counterfeited THC products. These counterfeit products contain contaminants that researchers are trying to identify in order to determine their impact on the body and the best way to regulate them.