A pack a day.
That’s what Tony Guarino smoked as a freshman in high school. He continued pulling cigarette after cigarette through his sophomore year. He remembers being out of breath after one flight of stairs.
He’s 20 now and he’s taking the stairs with ease. And, no, he didn’t stop nicotine, but he did quit smoking cigarettes. Guarino has been vaping since his junior year of high school, he says from the barstool at a local vape shop. He wouldn’t have stopped nicotine, he said, but he believes he found a healthier vice.
Vaping is under rapid-fire scrutiny after nearly 530 vaping-related illnesses have clouded social media feeds and local news’ front page sites. Seven have died. Three people have been hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses in Mobile alone. But, as President Donald Trump calls for an all-out ban of flavored vaping, false information and conflicting results point to a different culprit.
Who’s to blame?
Nearly all of the 380 people who are reporting having suffered from a vape-related lung illness said they were using a marijuana oil called THC in their vape pens, according to research by the Washington Post. Many say they obtained the cartridges, or pods as they are called on purchasing sites, illegally. These THC pods contain significant amounts of vitamin E acetate, which can be linked to painful symptoms — coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath.
Most of these symptoms lead to what hospitalizes the users, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, according to the Post. This is a life-threatening condition that results in fluid build-up in the lungs that prohibit oxygen from getting through the bloodstream. The CDC, the leading agency in search of answers, is advising people to stop vaping until the causes are solidly linked or not linked to e-cigarettes.
Despite early findings of THC or vitamin E acetate, the nicotine vaping industry is taking the heat for hospitalizations. This has taken big players in the industry off guard, according to national reporting. In addition to THC pods, illegal pods are on the rise. In response, Trump’s administration has called for the banning of all regulated vapes.
What’s in vape juice?
Regulated vape juice contains three components and water. E-juice or vape juice is a mixture of water, food-grade flavoring, a choice of nicotine levels or zero nicotine and propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin.
Propylene glycol is an alcohol that is commonly used in foods or medicines to keep them moist. Vegetable glycerin is formed from fat and processed from oils. It is not an oil, but rather an alcohol. It’s commonly used in foods as a sweetener and it is about 80% of regulated vape juices.
“Nicotine is still addictive no matter what form you take it in,” Guarino said, “but outlawing vapes will just increase the number of deaths in two ways. People will continue buying unregulated pods or they’ll go back to Big Tobacco.”
Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals and 70 of those are linked to cancer, according to data from Students Taking a New Direction. One in 20 adults are vaping now, according to research from Reuters Health, and 1.4 percent of people in the survey who said they vaped had never smoked.
Vaping was intended for smokers to get off tobacco, said Justin Durden, 20, from Mobile. He said he’s not surprised young people are not responding to JUULs well, because going from no nicotine to vaping 90% of the day can be dangerous. JUULs are one of the most popular e-cigarettes among teenagers, as they are easy to conceal, priced reasonably low and feature fruity flavors. The FDA invested JUUL last year after rumors of the companies tactics to sell to underaged buyers.
Durden began dipping, or chewing smokeless tobacco that comes in a tin can, in high school and quickly began having problems with his bottom lip. It was torn up, he said, but it wasn’t until someone suggested vaping instead that he let go of the can. He sees the off-market unregulated vape juices and pens in gas stations, and he is sure that’s where students are finding life-threatening fault.
“There’s a reason why you have vape shops with people who know this stuff well,” he said.
VapeWild, one of the largest regulated dispensers of vape equipment and juices, published a letter to users with the changes that were coming after some illnesses made headlines. “FDA’s process is not only to decide what is and is not an acceptable product but also to deeply analyze the practices of a business. We’re well aware that we are under a microscope and intend to be a standard-bearer of this industry — it’s not about survival, it’s about leading the charge,” their website said.
What needs to be done?
The CDC and the FDA are in a holding period at the moment while research comes in. Vapers should be sure that the company they are purchasing from is FDA approved and has been regulated. Purchasing from specialty stores is one way to be safer.
The CDC is specifically warning against illegal vaping pods and those that are said to contain THC. Vaping, smoking or any other use of tobacco and nicotine are limited to those 19 and older.