By Nicole DeJacimo, Assistant News Editor
Three panelists discussed the American vaping epidemic and how the country is responding to concerns and regulations on Tuesday, Dec. 3 in Mara Auditorium.
Hosted by the Undergraduate Fellows of the Eisenhower Institute, Health Care Reporter for Politico Sarah Owermohle, Deputy Director for Policy Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Chris Bostic, and Gettysburg College Professor of Health Sciences Megan Benka-Coker provided their insights on the vaping crisis and regulation policies.
“Youth tobacco use went up last year for the first time in two decades,” Owermohle said. “Before, it had been gradually falling.”
Due to the increased popularity of e-cigarettes, specifically those made by Juul Labs, a vaping epidemic has swept the country. At the time of the lecture, 47 reported deaths have been linked to vaping, many of whom were teenagers, according to the panelists. Meanwhile, as Bostic pointed out, nearly 1,300 Americans die every day from smoking cigarettes.
“This epidemic has pushed federal and local governments to rethink their policies for e-cigarettes and tobacco,” Coker said, responding to Bostic, who explained that the ASH team encourages governments to put regulations on e-cigarettes and tobacco.
“We looked at it from a human rights lens and we asked ourselves how many deaths from tobacco are we OK with,” Bostic said, “and it’s zero. None.”
ASH was founded in the 1960s shortly after the 1964 report by then Surgeon General Luther Terry that linked smoking cigarettes to lung cancer, according to Bostic and a CDC article from December 2006.
Until 2009, the federal government had no authority over tobacco products. When an audience member asked why the government had not stepped in previously, Bostic said, “There’s a trillion-dollar industry on the other side.”
Owermohle added that because the deaths linked to vaping are so quick and unexpected, “these deaths this summer have grabbed the national attention more.”
In late November, President Trump met with all sides of the debate: parents, users, big and tobacco companies included.
“In September, President Trump announced that he would ban all flavored e-cigs. It is December and it has not happened yet,” Owermohle said. “He was considering not just public health and health of the teenagers but also jobs and small businesses.”
The week of the lecture, Juul stopped the production and sales of their menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, which according to Owermohle is seventy percent of their market sales.
Bostic explained that many adults who once smoked cigarettes instead began to vape, specifically menthol-flavored e-cigarettes. He added that many lawmakers are considering whether the number of teenage addicts linked to vaping is worth the number of previously addicted adults who are moving towards it as well; the vaping deaths and other variables must also be taken into consideration, he said, for the Trump administration’s decision.
Despite worries across the country, the panelists recommended that no one should make hasty decisions.
“All policies should be based on facts, not morality, not gut instinct,” Bostic said.