After deaths, Trump set to ban vape flavours

Illegal: THC (a constituent of cannabis) found in some US vapes is banned in the EU. © Alamy

Is vaping good for society? While the US reacts to a recent spate of deaths, Britain is adamant that vaping saves lives and helps wean people off the far more dangerous addiction to tobacco.

Scoop! So claimed the news based on a leak from the White House this weekend.

The Trump administration plans to finalise a ban on almost all flavoured vaping products in the next few days, with exemptions only for tobacco and menthol flavours.

What’s going on?

In a nutshell, Donald Trump is following up on alarm sparked this summer after six Americans reportedly died from vaping-related illnesses.

He said at the time that vaping was a “new problem”, especially for children, and confirmed he was looking at a plan to take all non-tobacco flavours off the market.

He is known to be under pressure from his wife Melania and her fears for their 13-year-old son Barron.

The US Food and Drug Administration currently estimates six deaths and 450 reported cases of lung illness tied to vaping across 33 states.

And American experts are now warning that people should completely avoid all e-cigarettes until the cause of the deaths and illnesses is clear.

But the background science is increasingly confused and the debate over the response — to ban or not to ban — increasingly bitter.

In Europe, there is no outbreak of the vaping sickness sweeping the USA.

“We have not seen anything like what we’ve seen in the US recently in Europe, to my knowledge as a scientist, and I’m pretty aware of the field,” said Constantine Vardavas, the European Respiratory Society’s scientific relations director with the EU.

Is this merely down to a lack of data?

EU and national agencies monitoring the US situation admit they aren’t always able to say who’s keeping track. An EU-wide reporting system on the health effects of vaping is still in the works, and a broad analysis of e-cigarette safety is only due in around 12 months from now.

But it’s not just about data.

The UK, in particular, is opposed to the impending US ban. The British Government has embraced e-cigarettes as a way to wean people off tobacco. UK officials say that the worst thing people could do is go back to regular cigarettes.

“You’re terrifying people who are benefiting from vaping by not smoking,” says Clive Bates, a former chief of the UK charity Action on Smoking and Health. The US is creating “one of the darkest episodes in American public health [...]. They have lost all their moorings with evidence and good practice,” he adds.

And Martin Dockrell, head of tobacco control at Public Health England, is quick to offer reassurance. “What little we know of recent reports from the US is that the devices used appear to be linked to home brews of illicit drugs and not legitimate vaping products,” he says. “Unlike the UK, which has strict regulation [...] on e-cigarette safety, the US has no regulation.”

So, the bigger question remains: is vaping good for society?

Smoke and mirrors

Yes, say some. There is no question that vaping is less harmful to health than smoking cigarettes. Many of the people who are developing illnesses are using vaping cartridges that are either contaminated or filled with an illegal substance. We just need to stick to trusted brands.

No, say others. Far more research is still needed. Just listen to the respected American Cancer Society, for example. It says, “E-cigarettes are still fairly new, and more research is needed over a longer period of time to know what the long-term effects may be.”

You Decide

  1. Is vaping attractive or cool?
  2. Should governments ban everything which isn’t good for us?

Activities

  1. Using the Expert Links, research how vaping works. Draw a diagram that explains the key processes and the effects on the body.
  2. Design a poster encouraging people to quit smoking. Do you mention vaping or not?

Some People Say...

“Smoking is the perfect way to commit suicide without actually dying.”

Damian Hirst, British artist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Vaping only really began in 2004 in China and didn’t come to the US and Europe until 2006, so it is only about 15 years old. The history of smoking tobacco dates back to as early as 5000 BC in the Americas, in shamanistic rituals. It has been studied by the scientific community for around 100 years, and been related to lung cancer for 70 years.
What do we not know?
Whether vaping leads to smoking. Martin Dockrell, of Public Health England, told the BBC there is “no evidence that flavours are leading kids who don’t smoke into vaping, but there is evidence that they are part of what helps smokers to switch”.

Word Watch

Tobacco and menthol
These are the two flavours that might escape a ban since they are not found to be as attractive to children
US Food and Drug Administration
The FDA is responsible for protecting US public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, the food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
European Respiratory Society
A world leading medical organisation working to promote lung health and combat lung diseases.
Action on Smoking and Health
A major British public health charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco.
Public Health England
Part of the UK’s department of health, Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.
American Cancer Society
A US nationwide, voluntary health organisation dedicated to eliminating cancer.

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