Editorial note: On Sept. 25, 2019, the makers of the Juul e-cigarette announced digital, print and broadcast advertising would be suspended.
Let me give credit where credit is due. The Trump administration — on Sept. 11 of all dates — said the Food and Drug Administration has been instructed to crack down on "non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes." A statement from the FDA says this is in an effort to tackle the epidemic — their word, not mine — of vaping among young people. I think that's great, because vaping has become this sweetly deceptive health concern among the student population, even right here in northwest Iowa. Seriously. Ask any teacher.
While e-cigarettes and similar products were once marketed as a way to wean one's self off actual tobacco products, some vaping products have been shown to still contain nicotine and tobacco (more than they're supposed to in some cases) which makes it less of an aid and more of a bait and switch. What's more, it's been argued vaping flavor pods like mint, mango and the oddly ambiguous fruit, are designed to appeal to young people.
Now, that's a pretty fact-filled couple of paragraphs for an opinion column, and that's because I've been keeping tabs on the issue since I began reporting on local efforts to keep vaping out of public spaces. Local folks who joined Wellmark's Healthy Hometown Initiative in this region began talking with government officials in Dickinson County early on this year about updating tobacco policies in public parks and similar spaces. In fact, I wrote three major stories on the topic, but I think things are coming to a head and you, dear reader, ought to know about it — especially if you have kids who are vaping.
The Center for Disease Control said in a Sept. 12 statement it's looking into around 380 cases of lung illnesses in 36 states — including Iowa — which seem to be related to e-cigarette use. Some health officials are theorizing the disease may be linked to the addition of vitamin E (which they say isn't meant to directly contact lung tissue) and THC (the stuff that does the heavy lifting for a marijuana high) to vaping pods. In Iowa alone, four cases of respiratory illness were recorded among young e-cigarette users as of this past August, according to the Associated Press. Last week, the FDA also said it's examining six deaths in six different states, some as close as Illinois and Minnesota, as part of the outbreak — again, their word, not mine.
Folks, it's happening.
I may not be old enough to remember the Marlboro Man terribly well, but I remember Joe Camel playing pool in a baseball cap. I remember eating ice cream at the local drug store while two old ladies smoked a cigarette or two over coffee in the next booth. I remember packs of cigarettes being stocked on the front of the cashier's counter in almost every gas station — right below the rolls of Lifesavers, Jolly Ranchers and Halls cough drops.
This vaping thing is the same old song and dance, just in a jazzy new package. But somehow it's still fooled us, and it's still being marketed to our kids. At least the Attorney General of North Carolina seems to have caught on here. He filed lawsuits against eight vaping product companies, alleging "these companies are aggressively targeting children and do not require appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products."
It's becoming pretty hard to deny. I imagine that's why the Trump administration and the FDA have taken action as they have. Admittedly, I don't see eye-to-eye with most things President Trump does, however, this is a good one. It's not an all-encompassing solution, but it's at least an attempt to curb the appeal and availability of dangerous products.
Now, the local Healthy Hometown folks haven't been widely successful so far in their efforts to promote updated tobacco use policies among Lakes Area governments — the city of Wahpeton was the only one to update its public tobacco use policy to include electronic smoking as the U.S. Department of Health recommends (and that was a recommendation from 2016, by the by, so we're still a bit behind here in northwest Iowa).
Some have argued the group was attempting to govern morality. A fair point, but remember, there are six dead and 380 treated for lung disease, likely because of the supposedly safe alternative vaping offers — a claim I think won't be held onto for much longer. While it's the next generation's new, spiffy way to smoke, the U.S. Surgeon General says it's still got second-hand effects for bystanders. So, it's not about morality, it's about protecting non-vapers the same way we protect non-smokers. With all this evidence mounting up as to what e-cigarettes are supposed to do versus what they actually do, it seems to me vaping's nothing but the newest gimmick for the same old addictive, harmful product.
So slap a pair of sunglasses on it, because vaping's the new Joe Camel, and your kids think he's the coolest. My recommendation is to take this thing just as seriously as we did back in the '90s, because it's the same beast. It's building a loyal following among our children, and it needs to be stopped.
On that, the President Trump and I can agree.