Here are some of the e-Liquids, which are used for vaping in electronic cigarettes, being sold at the Smoke Depot on September 13, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Getty
This isn't a mid-life crisis. It's a teen crisis, and it's getting worse.
According to just-released preliminary data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey, now over one in four high schoolers (27.5% according to the American Lung Association) have used e-cigarettes in the prior 30 days. That's a significant jump from the one in five (20.8%) in 2018 that was reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Lisette Voytko first reported these numbers for Forbes and wrote that "Youth e-cigarette usage has surged in the past two years`in 2017, the CDC reported 11.7% of teens were using the devices."
This teen crisis could be a mid-life crisis for some if teens go on to die early from vaping-inflicted lung disease. The CDC has confirmed that six people so far have passed away due to lung damage believed to be related to e-cigarette use, otherwise known as vaping. There's been over 450 reported cases in 33 states and one U.S. territory of severe lung problems that appear to be associated with vaping. Add these problems to the possibility of the nicotine in e-liquids being addictive and affecting brain development, and you've got a full blown crisis that's positively, totally not Gucci.
This crisis prompted two separate announcements on Wednesday, one from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the other from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both centered around flavored e-cigarettes.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies have engaged in tobacco control efforts around the world. Now they are turning their attention to e-cigarrettes as well. (Photo: -/AFP/Getty Images)Getty
Bloomberg Philanthropies, the philanthropic organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced the launch of Protect Kids: Fight Flavored E-Cigarettes. This is a $160 million, three-year initiative that aims to ban all flavored e-cigarettes and the marketing of e-cigarette products to kids.
Why ban flavored e-cigarettes? Flavored e-liquids, which are used in vaping devices, can make e-cigarettes seem more like candy. Take a look at some of the names of e-liquids that are used to vape: Alien Piss, Unicorn Vomit, and Smurf's Blood. Do these sound like products being marketed exclusively to adults? Sounds, instead, like things that you'd find in a cartoon hospital pathology lab.
Then, there's mounting evidence that e-cigarettes are being marketed to kids. For example, according to the CDC, "more than half of high school students (about 8 million) saw e-cigarette ads in retail stores, and more than 6 million saw them on the Internet," and "More than half of middle school students (6 million) saw e-cigarettes ads in retail stores, and more than 4 million saw them on the Internet." On Monday, the FDA sent a letter to e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL warning them about their marketing practices, which have included presentations to youth at schools. Yes, presentations at schools.
E-cigarette companies and the tobacco companies that back them are preying on Americas youth," said Bloomberg in a statement. "They are using the same marketing tactics that once lured kids to cigarettes, and the result is an epidemic that is spiraling out of control and putting kids in danger of addiction and serious health problems. Bloomberg is also the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids will lead this initiative and partner with other organizations and community groups to advocate for new measures to counter the teen vaping crisis. "We are deeply honored to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies on this initiative, said Matthew L. Myers, the President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement. Tobacco remains the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. This game-changing investment will provide critical resources to help the public health community stand up against Juul and other e-cigarette companies that peddle e-cigarettes to our kids and ensure that we dont lose another generation of kids to nicotine addiction.
As part of this initiative, the CDC Foundation will collect and analyze data on e-cigarette retail sales as well as teen use of e-cigarettes and attitudes about the crisis. E-cigarettes and marketing practices have spread relatively unfettered so quickly, outpacing the establishment of tracking and monitoring systems and data collection. Without enough data, it's difficult to understand the real extent of this crisis.
The FDA announcement did not indicate any specific new policies but said that "the FDA intends to finalize a compliance policy in the coming weeks that would prioritize the agencys enforcement of the premarket authorization requirements for non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, clearing the market of unauthorized, non-tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products." In other words, this was an announcement that there will be a future announcement of a plan to do something.
The announcement did mention President Donald Trump's name six times, including once in the title. Indeed, on Wednesday, Trump did make comments about the teen vaping crisis, as shown on this ABC News segment:
As you can see, Trump referred to First Lady Melania Trump's reasons for getting involved with combating the crisis by saying, "That's how the First Lady involved. She's got a son, together, that's a beautiful young man, and she feels very very strongly about it." The "it" presumably refers to the First Lady's interest in combating the crisis.
Bloomberg responded to the FDA announcement with the following statement:
The FDA's announcement that it will clear flavored e-cigarettes from the market' is the right one, but words are not enough. This decision is long overdue - the timeline for action is yesterday, not tomorrow. The agency must now move quickly to adopt a flavor ban that is comprehensive and that takes effect immediately. And it's up to us, the public, to hold them accountable and I intend to do exactly that.
With over a quarter of high schoolers (in 2019) and over one in ten middle schoolers (in 2018 based on the MMWR publication) using E-cigarettes, the Unicorn Vomit has already left the barn so to speak. This is already genuine teen crisis that requires swift action. Stay tuned for what the FDA may announce next.