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For years, tobacco companies gained profits through lies and deception — now, e-cigarette producers are following in their predecessors’ footsteps, health experts say.
Since its inception, vape manufacturers like Juul promoted their products as a “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes, and even as a way to gradually quit smoking altogether.
Studies are actually beginning to show the exact opposite.
The overall lack of knowledge concerning e-cigs is a notable risk to users, according to the FDA’s former Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, and current Principal Deputy Commissioner, Amy Abernethy.
“While we believe that currently addicted adult smokers who completely switch off of combustible tobacco and onto e-cigarettes have the potential to improve their health, e-cigarettes still pose health risks,” the two said in a joint statement released following Gottlieb’s resignation announcement in March. “These include the possible release of some chemicals at higher levels than conventional cigarettes.
“We’ve also seen data that indicates there may be other potential health concerns. We recognize that in many areas, more information is needed to assess whether there are additional consequences to nicotine use, especially from the use of e-cigarettes, some of which deliver high concentrations of nicotine.”
From Cigarettes to Vape
Tobacco companies have a long-standing history of deceiving the public about dangers cigarettes pose as well as targeting youths in their advertising campaigns.
As information about the addictive nature and adverse side effects of cigarettes surfaced, tobacco companies lied to the public rather than promote public health. Producers falsely claimed they could regulate nicotine levels in their products, according to the New York Times.
Worse, tobacco manufactures downplayed links between smoking and disease.
Joseph Cullman, former president of tobacco producer Philip Morris, told viewers cigarette manufacturers had the health of customers in mind in an interview with “Face the Nation” in 1971.
However, studies throughout the 50s and 60s were already beginning to link smoking and serious health complications, according to the Cancer Council NWS.
Now, tobacco companies are selling a new slew of smoking products and, once again, using advertising and a lack of detailed information to market goods that have the potential for harm. What’s worse is these campaigns have been targeting youth and minority populations through efforts such as promotions and flavors.
These initiatives have led to a surge in teen e-cig use. Now the FDA is stepping in to address what some are calling a health epidemic.
“Juul is promoting itself as a health-conscious company, even as it develops new, potentially more addictive vaping products,” current editorial reporter for the New York Times and former scientific researcher Jeneen Interlandi writes. “And Philip Morris International has created a nonprofit — the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World — through which it has tried to partner with the World Health Organization.
“The foundation’s stated goal is to reduce the global health burden of cigarette use. But according to tobacco industry watchdogs, leaked P.M.I. documents suggest that its true aim is to promote the company’s own vaping products.”
From One Harm to Another
Countless lives have been negatively impacted by cancer development, heart complications, and other adverse health outcomes caused by cigarette smoking.
Now, smokers potentially face a whole new set of illnesses through e-cig usage. While there isn’t a complete understanding of all the dangers, recent studies have shown vapes are by no means a safe alternative to cigarettes.
A recently published report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that some vape products not only contain harmful chemicals but other hazardous substances as well.
“The study, which examined 75 popular e-cigarette products—cartridges (single use) and e-liquids (refillable material)—found that 27% contained traces of endotoxin, a microbial agent found on Gram-negative bacteria, and that 81% contained traces of glucan, which is found in the cell walls of most fungi,” the press release states. “Exposure to these microbial toxins has been associated with myriad health problems in humans.”
Other side effects linked to e-cigs include seizures, asthma, and lung function, inflammation problems.
From Status Quo to Change
In 2016, the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 10.8 million adults were e-cig users. The report also showed that half of the studied population was younger than 35-years-old.
The FDA stated last month that greater bodies of research are needed to establish a complete understanding of the vape products’ potential danger.
“In the absence of such information, some e-cig proponents have fallen back on a trope from the previous tobacco wars: Smoking should be a matter of personal choice and personal responsibility,” she writes. “That argument is not entirely wrong. Nicotine and tobacco are, after all, legal substances, and if e-cigs do prove safer than regular cigarettes, adult smokers should be encouraged to switch.
“But the next FDA commissioner would be wise to carry out the work that Dr. Gottlieb started — to keep all nicotine products from reaching underage users. I take full responsibility for choosing to smoke. But I wish that someone would have made it harder for 15-year-old me to do so. I hope the powers that be will do at least that much for the teenagers of today.”
For Those Who Want to Quit Smoking Now
You can get help if you want to quit smoking.
Quitxt is a text-message smoking cessation program designed specifically to help South Texas Latino young adults quit smoking by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, leader of Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.
The service’s text messages help with motivation to quit, setting a quit date, finding things to do instead of smoking, handling stress, using nicotine replacement if needed, and more.
To join Quitxt in Spanish, text “lodejo” to 57682 or visit quitxt.org/spanish.
To join Quitxt in English, text “iquit” to 57682 or visit quitxt.org.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America! and the Hoffman Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) program at UT Health- San Antonio. To find out if you are TILTed due to exposure to everyday foods, chemicals, or drugs, take a self-assessment or learn more about TILT.