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The FDA aims to clear the air around vaping and e-cigarettes

As the popularity of alternative cigarettes continues to increase, so do the number of questions


Photo illustration of a student vaping taken in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.

From busy streets to quiet homes, vaping can be seen anywhere.

As the alternative cigarette industry grows, many companies and investors are raising questions on the safety and ethics, with the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declaring youth vaping an epidemic and threatening to tighten up regulations.

According to the FDA, vape use increased from 1.5 to 11.7 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2017. 

In September, the FDA gave e-cigarette companies 60 days to prove they can prevent child usage of their products. Now, major e-cigarette companies are facing accusations of marketing their products to children. 

Intended as a safer smoking alternative, e-cigarettes have gained a bad reputation after young adults illegally began using the devices. According to the FDA, more than two million middle and high school students were active users of vape-like devices in 2017, leading to threats from the FDA to halt sales of flavored products. 

The FDA is not the first to stop these sales, as San Francisco approved to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored vape juices in June. 

Though underage use of electric smoking devices is leading to questions for the industry, Keith Wisniewski, a recent ASU graduate, manages the vape shop Butt Out Mill with the hopes of helping people quit smoking through vaping.

“The best feeling in the world is seeing the people who have been smoking for like 50 years stop coming in because they don’t need the vapes to get off of it anymore,” Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski said he was able to quit smoking himself by transitioning to vaping.

“A lot of people at that point have seen people in their lives, even their parents, die of lung cancer or other smoking related diseases and are able to get off of that path with vaping," he said.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death, with nearly half a million Americans dying prematurely of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year. 

According to Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States and a distinguished professor of public health, vaping is best used to reduce the harm of tobacco, but that further studies should be conducted. 

“The most important reason we look for alternatives is that the tobacco industry has prevailed. If a plane kept crashing and killing people, it would be taken off the market. It isn’t the same with tobacco,” Carmona said. 

Antonio Gigli, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, uses e-cigarettes. He said vaping has gained popularity among young people due to its reputation as being a safer alternative to cigarettes.

“The people who are drawn to vapes now are the same people who would have gone for cigarettes years ago. Vapes are just a much safer option,” he said. 

As smoking alternatives gain popularity, understanding addiction has become a key element in conversations regarding vapes. 

Pamela Thompson, an adjunct professor in the ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the owner of PT Envision Enterprises, said young people are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction. 

This is made particularly evident by the popularity of the vape company JUUL, with each JUUL pod containing the nicotine equivalent of one pack of cigarettes. 

“A college or high school student only has to do it a couple of times to become dependent on it, and a lot of those students don’t know what they’re smoking," she said. "The flavors the companies put into tobacco or nicotine products are the things that make the poison go down easier." 

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