Since the introduction of e-cigarettes in 2004, their popularity has grown exponentially, especially among teenagers and young adults.
Initially, e-cigarettes were used as a form of smoking cessation therapy. Though they contain nicotine, they do not have the tar and toxic gasses that are associated with combustible cigarettes. E-cigarettes were an innovative way to get people to quit smoking, and they’re easily accessible. But this accessibility introduced young people to e-cigarette use.
For many young people, vaping is an introduction to nicotine and may be a gateway to traditional cigarettes.
Vaping has become rampant and, for experts, the trend is disturbing. The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed staggering increases in middle and high school students using e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). From 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle school students, reversing the strides made in recent decades in the fight against youth nicotine addiction.
Since vaping is a relatively new technology, there are still questions about the e-cigarette liquid and its long-term effects. We know nicotine harms the developing brain but have little understanding of the potentially damaging ultrafine particles and heavy metals that also are found in e-cigarettes.
With its increase in popularity, there have been multiple regulations in an effort to curb and eventually eradicate vaping in teens and young adults.
In 2014, a law was passed that bans people under age 18 from purchasing and possessing e-cigarettes and other nicotine-dispensing devices, but that did not solve the youth vaping problem.
More recently, a ban on indoor vaping was passed in November. This amendment makes the use of e-cigarettes and other nicotine-dispensing products allowed only in homes, bars, and hotels that permit it, thus treating vaping like cigarette smoking. However, this ban does not address the youth vaping crisis.
The Federal Drug Administration has been tireless in its attempt to keep e-cigarettes and other ENDS out of the hands of young people. A major component of its plan is to curb the marketing of tobacco products aimed at youth. Many purveyors of e-cigarettes and other ENDS have designed marketing campaigns to appeal to teens and young adults. Bright ads and flavored products are created for and aimed at young people to get them addicted to nicotine.
In compliance with the FDA crackdown, Juul, one of the leading manufacturers of e-cigarettes, announced in 2018 that the company will no longer sell its flavored products in retail stores. These products are now only available on Juul’s website to buyers who are over 21. One puff of a Juul has the equivalent amount of nicotine of one pack of cigarettes.
The FDA released its Comprehensive Plan for Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation in 2017 and held a public hearing on Jan. 19 to discuss efforts to eliminate the use of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products by young people. The FDA proposes a nicotine product standard that would lower the nicotine in cigarettes to a minimally addictive or non-addictive level. This could decrease the chances of future generations becoming addicted to cigarettes and could make it easier for current smokers and vapers to quit. The FDA is also looking into regulating flavors in e-cigarette and tobacco products, including menthol. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has vowed to take whatever action is necessary to stop the harmful trends associated with vaping.