How dangerous is vaping? For the last several years, public health officials have tried to alert the public to the truth: no one knows exactly how safe it is to vape.
Now five people have died as a result of a lung disease authorities believe to be related to e-cigarette use. All five deaths are under investigation. Limited details have been shared with the public, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported at least 215 additional cases of a “severe lung disease” associated with vaping devices.
In a statement, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that some of the cases were similar and “appear to be linked to e-cigarette product use.” To determine exactly what is causing the illness is going to take more time and information, as “it is not clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar presentations.”
What Are the Symptoms of Vaping Lung?
Across the country, people have been visiting doctors’ offices with a range of serious respiratory problems after vaping. According to the CDC, many patients reported a gradual start of symptoms, which include:
- breathing difficulty
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Many of the those who wound up sick elected to purchase e-cigarettes thinking they were safe. There is little or no information about the potential dangers on the packaging of e-cigarettes. Because they were not warned of adverse effects, they don’t recognize the symptoms of a disease and keep vaping the highly addictive products.
The CDC advises that e-cigarette users monitor themselves for these symptoms, as otherwise healthy teens and adults have ended up in intensive care or on ventilators for weeks. While these products may help smokers quit, the agency maintains that e-cigarettes are not safe for:
- young adults
- pregnant women
- adults who do not currently use tobacco products
Claims that e-cigarettes help adult smokers quit are unproven, though manufacturers like Juul advertise their products as an alternative to combustible cigarettes. Such devices have not been on the market long enough to determine whether they help people quit permanently, or if these products are even safe to use over the course of a lifetime.
What Causes Vaping Lung?
No specific brand, flavor, or specific chemical in e-cigarettes has been linked to the disease, which has been found in 25 states so far. The CDC and FDA have asked doctors to share information and report cases of lung infections that are consistent with vaping-associated lung disease.
Some of those affected have also used THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) vaping devices, but the CDC could not say for sure what role, if any, cannabis-based products have played in the development of the illness. There are hundreds of different vaping devices on the market, and some of them can be re-filled through non-regulated channels, which adds a layer of complexity to the efforts of investigators.
Will Juul Take Responsibility for the Epidemic They Created?
Whether or not young people are getting sick and dying, Juul and others in the industry will continue to maintain that their devices are safe.
This is nothing new. Despite studies which warned of potential e-cigarette health risks, Juul Labs and other manufacturers have downplayed risks associated with their products. Even as young people started becoming addicted to their high-dose nicotine devices, these profit-hungry companies called the fears of e-cigarette researchers overblown.
Kevin Burns, the CEO of Juul, has finally acknowledged that people who don’t use nicotine should not use his company’s products. “Don't vape. Don't use Juul,” Burns told CBS recently. “Don't start using nicotine if you don't have a preexisting relationship with nicotine. Don't use the product. You're not our target consumer.”
Burns’s warning is a small step in the right direction for the company, whose products have been blamed for fueling underage nicotine use and addiction. But is it too little too late, or just a PR move?
Juul has tried to say that its massive marketing campaign only targeted adult smokers, but the e-cigarette manufacturer is now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the New York Times, the FTC is looking into Juul’s use of social media and influencers to market their nicotine products to underage users.
Juul has been happy to profit while millions of teens have picked up vaping. Sticking its head in the sand to avoid blame has worked so far, but with the true dangers of e-cigarette use coming to light, it will soon be much more difficult for Juul to ignore the damage caused by their products.