The effects of vaping remain unclear, but that doesn’t warrant high levels of concern

by Patrick Doyle, Staff Writer

Whether you call them vapes or e-cigarettes, these electronic smoking devices have become incredibly common over the last few years. I’ve noticed about half the people on my dorm floor have one of these and will smoke regularly. It has become almost the norm to smell a puff of flavored smoke each night as I go out for dinner.

I won’t be “that guy” who has never tried vaping yet still tells people it’s deadly. But I do know one thing: Vaping is a lot more complicated than you may think.

In case you’re not aware, e-cigarettes are electronic smoking products that typically don’t contain tobacco, which is one of the main ingredients in traditional cigarettes. Depending on the type, they may or may not contain nicotine, the addictive chemical used in cigarettes.

Juul is one of the most prominent e-cigarette companies, generating over a billion dollars of revenue in 2018 alone. They advertise their product as a method for traditional cigarette smokers to switch to a similar device that does contain nicotine, but doesn’t contain tobacco, therefore making it marginally safer. While there are other safer alternatives for those looking to kick a nicotine addiction, based on the facts of their products, Juul is not chemically any worse than cigarettes.

So if society has deemed cigarettes acceptable (at least due to the overwhelming influence of tobacco companies), why are people so afraid of these alternative devices?

The simple answer: Children. 

Many Juul pods and other vaping devices come in flavors ranging from mango to cucumber. It’s worth mentioning the term “flavored” has essentially become a trigger word to frighten adults into thinking all kids will want to try vaping. However, while all kids don’t suddenly have an interest in smoking, it is certainly true and verifiable that flavors in e-cigarettes have increased smoking percentages in youth. This absolutely does warrant concern. It has become too easy for young students to simply walk into a smoke shop and buy one of these devices.

This is why there is some validity behind the Trump administration’s recent call to ban flavored vaping products nationwide. Children becoming sick evokes more empathy than adults becoming sick — that is simply human nature. We feel for our youth, and the thought of them getting hooked on nicotine is frightening.

But here’s where the problem comes in. Many flavored vapes do not contain nicotine, and data shows that the amount of vaping-related illnesses and deaths are surprisingly low, especially compared to traditional cigarettes. So far in the United States, 580 vape-related illnesses and eight deaths have been reported. This may sound frightening, but compare this to the 480,000 cigarette-related deaths annually, and you can understand why the e-cigarette figures are relatively miniscule.

It seems to me, simply based on the facts we have, that the vaping “epidemic” is not actually an epidemic. I’m not saying that once more time passes and more research is done on electronic, tobacco-less smoking, there won’t be a strong link to harmful effects — that would be ignorant. Clearly they are harmful. The vapor being inhaled alone damages the lungs over time.

But I think we need to look at the numbers in front of us and understand that the real issue derives from tobacco companies essentially being above the law due to their monetary influence over the world. Traditional tobacco smoking kills far more people than flavored or unflavored vaping, and the people it kills were at one point children as well.

So before we think about blaming vaping for killing youth, we should target where the facts lead us. It is true that the chemicals from smoking are harmful, no matter the medium. But it simply is not pragmatic to attempt to shut down flavored e-cigarette manufacturers before we’ve gotten rid of the cigarettes that actually kill people in mass.

Patrick Doyle is a freshman studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickDoyle100.