Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/9/2019 (258 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
That appears to be the case with vaping, as the U.S. grapples with a mysterious outbreak of serious lung illnesses, mostly affecting teenagers and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 450 people in the U.S. have fallen ill and six have died of ailments thought to be related to vaping. Officials are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause but, for now, are warning people to avoid vaping devices.
Health Canada has not seen evidence of similar pulmonary illnesses occurring in this country, but is warning Canadians of the potential risks of e-cigarettes and advises users who have concerns about their health to seek medical attention.
But vaping is supposed to be "safe," isn’t it? Surely, e-cigarettes and vaping pens, the logic goes, aren’t as bad for you as smoking regular, tar-filled cigarettes.
The trouble is, we actually don’t know that definitively. When vaping emerged on the scene over a decade ago, it was heralded as a harm-reduction tool, a less dangerous nicotine delivery method than cigarettes.
The potential merits of vaping as a smoking cessation option are still being researched and debated by health professionals, but through the broken telephone of public discourse, "less harmful than cigarettes" became "safer than cigarettes" and then somehow became simply "safe."
But a nicotine addiction is a nicotine addiction, even if it’s mango–flavoured.
A lot remains unknown about the current vaping-linked crisis— and vaping in general. But what is known is that young people are vaping at an unprecedented rate.
The CDC reported 27.5 per cent of U.S. high school students said they used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days. That’s up from 1.5 per cent in 2011. A University of Waterloo survey found rates were on the rise in Canada, as well.
E-cigarette giant Juul — which markets itself as a "satisfying alternative to cigarettes" and is partially owned by the tobacco company Altria — has been criticized for making e-cigarettes and nicotine vaping trendy among young people. Just as cigarettes came with a promise of coolness decades ago, Juul’s appeal to a young, social media-savvy audience isn’t hard to understand.
Juul pods come in flavours such as mint and fruit (so they don’t reek like cigarettes), and one pod contains about 200 puffs — as much nicotine as a whole pack of smokes. The devices are sleek, portable and easily concealed. "Juuling" can take the edge off in a jittery age of anxiety and social media.
But a nicotine addiction is a nicotine addiction, even if it’s mango-flavoured.
The dramatic rise in popularity of e-cigarettes among a generation of young people who grew up with graphic, diseased-lung warnings on cigarette packages could have to do with vaping’s perceived safety. A U.S. teen, who vaped despite his mother’s protests and ended up being intubated in hospital, told BuzzFeed News he never imagined using an e-cigarette could have dangerous health consequences— a point echoed by other teenagers in similar media stories.
An all-out ban, such as the one on flavoured e-cigarettes U.S. President Donald Trump said this week he will pursue, might seem to some like reactionary, "Won’t someone think of the children?" pearl-clutching, and could simply drive demand for vaping products to the unregulated black market. But there’s no doubt this moment presents an opportunity to be decisively proactive about what could well be the next public health crisis.
If we’ve learned anything from tobacco, it’s that ignorance can be deadly.
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