Bad news for all y’all vapesters out there.
by Meredith McLaughlin
Vapers, it’s time to start stocking your pomegranate flavored pods, because New York might pass legislation banning most flavored e-cigarettes. Governor Cuomo and health officials are concerned with the rising rate of teen addiction to e-cigarettes, and have proposed heavy regulations to try and curb this worsening problem. E-cigarettes are marketed as a healthy alternative to cigarettes, but is that label inherently misleading? Are there legitimate and negative health effects on teens that warrant a ban? Or is the government unfairly cracking down on a low risk product just because it is technically a drug?
Governor Cuomo’s administration recently submitted then withdrew a plan outlining the restriction of sale and possession of flavoured e-cigarette pods. The plan allegedly needed more legal review, and will be re-submitted “soon,” according to the administration. Cuomo has a history of creating anti-vape legislation; in 2016 he restricted e-cigarette sales to people 18 and older, and in 2017 he banned e-cigarette use in restaurants and the workplace. Health institutions, like the FDA, have been increasingly critical of e-cigarette companies and how their products appeal to teens. The major concern is that the fruity flavors of e-cigarettes are the main thing that makes them so popular among teens; there’s no bad aftertaste like there is for tobacco or alcohol with this addictive substance. A lot of ads for companies like JUUL include attractive young people dancing and having a good time, which is a common motif in any ad for an addictive substance. They also have advertisements pushing the narrative of JUUL as a legitimate alternative to smoking, even going so far as portraying it as a method to dropping cigarette use. Clearly, there’s a disconnect between the “healthy, fun” narrative of vape companies and the idea of a dangerous, predatory drug that New York wants to ban. But what’s the truth? Are flavoured vapes so dangerous that they need to be banned?
In a 2017 report on adolescent drug abuse, The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health found that about 11% of 12th graders surveyed had vaped in the past 30 days, while 8.5% of 10th graders and 3.5% of 8th graders reported vaping in the same time. Though e-cigarettes often advertise themselves as a “healthy” alternative to smoking, and as a method to help wean an addict off of normal cigarettes, schools and health officials are concerned about the negative effects these products might have on teens. The Minnesota Department of Health reported that nicotine can be damaging to developing adolescent brains, and can disrupt learning. E-cigarettes can potentially serve as a “gateway drug” to other nicotine products, and can prime the brain for addiction to other chemicals. Even non-nicotine e-cigarettes have ultrafine that can increase the risk of heart disease, as well as containing tin and lead. Based on how e-cigarettes are flavoured with candy and fruit, they can be much more appealing to teens, further increasing the risk of addiction.
Despite this, a report from The National Institute on Drug Abuse admits that e-cigarettes have “one of the lowest levels of perceived risk for regular use of all drugs, including alcohol.” It can not be denied that for a drug, e-cigarettes are definitely not as dangerous as other drugs popular among teens. The National Institute of Health reports that while vaping and weed smoking are more popular, teen misuse of opioids are at an all time low (though the same trend is not seen for adults). However, it’s important to note that the decrease in hard drug use among teens is more likely due to successful health initiatives and not due to teens choosing to use vape over opioids. Certainly, most of the negative health effects e-cigarettes have are side effects of just nicotine. If e-cigarettes were just flavored juice without nicotine, then the potential risks would definitely decrease (though there still would be some dangers). However, the facts are that most flavoured vape pods have nicotine; it’s more profitable for vape companies to establish addiction in order to create a consistent market for their goods. Making all e-cigarettes non-nicotine would be more expensive for companies in the long run; winning a lawsuit against the state would guarantee a market for their product, it’s better to drop money on lawyers than lose it on making e-cigarettes non-addictive.
Clearly, different health institutions have legitimate problems with flavored vapes and their negative side effects. E-cigarettes certainly aren’t as dangerous as regular cigarettes or other drugs, and there should be more research put into whether or not teens are starting to prefer e-cigarettes to harder drugs. But it can’t be denied that vapes, especially nicotine vapes, do pose a danger to teens. New York’s ban on e-cigarettes will certainly not be popular among smokers and smoke shop owners, and there are probably legitimate criticisms to this solution. But it’s clear that the government believes this is a legitimate problem that needs to be handled head on.