By Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblyman Herb Conaway
Recent headlines about serious illnesses and even deaths, including the first tragic vaping-related death in New Jersey, are bringing the matter of e-cigarette usage or vaping to public attention. Nationwide there are more than 800 vaping-related lung injury cases across 46 states and 17 deaths as of Wednesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration are working with states to investigate the public health crisis caused by vaping. According to the CDC the specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, remains unknown.
While this investigation is ongoing, the CDC recommends refraining from using e-cigarette, or vaping products. Recently, the Mayo Clinic reported that after conducting biopsies on tissue from 17 patients from around the country, two of whom died, it observed that the tissue “show a pattern of injury in the lung that looks like a toxic chemical exposure, or a chemical burn injury”.
The use of e-cigarettes began in earnest several years ago when it was marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes. Users were led to believe the vapor inhaled via e-cigarettes contains less harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, which makes them safer to use.
However, safer does not mean safe – and the more we learn about the effects of e-cigarettes, the more certain we are of this.
Enter Big Tobacco. It should come as no surprise that tobacco companies have moved into the e-cigarette market in earnest, investing billions of dollars and partnering with e-cigarette start-ups. They see this as an opportunity to increase their profits, and offset the falling sales of traditional cigarettes as more people beat nicotine addiction and fewer take up the habit.
The goal of Big Tobacco is to get another generation of people addicted to their products, which is why they have found ways to make vaping appealing to young people.
Reprising Big Tobacco’s playbook where in the past it associated Virginia Slims with women’s liberation to depicting hip young African Americans using Kools in ads targeting the African-American community, Big Tobacco has never shied away from using insidious marketing tactics to get people hooked on nicotine. Now e-cigarette companies are partnering with famous celebrities to help market vaping as a cool and exciting activity.
Flavored e-juice such as lemonade and cotton candy are being used to make vaping more enticing to young people, just as menthol cigarettes and other tobacco flavors were created to make smoking more palatable.
A recent University of North Carolina study found that 80% of all menthol cigarettes are consumed by African Americans – more than any other demographic – which illustrates just how effective Big Tobacco’s targeted marketing and product design have been throughout the years.
Already we can see the impact of their current tactics on our youth. Recent data shows that 1 in 4 high school students vape or have tried vaping, though most have never smoked a cigarette. With that many teens using e-cigarettes, we simply cannot ignore this issue any longer.
Although e-cigarettes are presented as being safer than traditional cigarettes, many people don’t realize that the nicotine in just one vape cartridge can be equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes. Nicotine has a particularly dangerous effect on young people, because developing brains are more susceptible to both the addictiveness and harm of nicotine.
Nicotine negatively effects an adolescent’s brain cell activity in the parts of the brain responsible for attention, learning and memory. With brain development continuing until age of 25, nicotine has a deleterious impact on both teens and young adults.
Something must be done to keep young people from a harmful product that continues to grow in popularity. A ban on flavored e-juice would drastically reduce the appeal of this addictive nicotine product. Similarly, a long overdue ban on menthol cigarettes would help decrease use of that deadly tobacco product. A near total flavor ban on traditional tobacco products is already the law in New Jersey.
Additional ways to combat use of these products would be to prohibit advertisements, the offering of coupons and free samples and the sale of e-cigarettes in pharmacies – places that are supposed to help, not hurt, our residents’ health. These tactics will reduce the visibility and availability of a product that causes undeniable harm.
We acknowledge the importance of helping people give up smoking in legitimately safe and effective ways, none of which include vaping. There are proven smoking cessation products such as prescription therapies and inhalers, and transdermal patches that many health insurance companies and Medicaid cover.