Vaping has become incredibly ubiquitous over the past few years. It’s been showing up at parties, on campus and pretty much anywhere else you’d expect people to be. CDC statistics show that 38 percent of high schoolers and 13 percent of middle schoolers have already tried vaping. Vapes have been allowed to proliferate with virtually no oversight by any public health or government agency.
The problems with these devices are twofold. The first, and most prominent, is that they contain nicotine. The second is that we don’t know what the health effects are yet, and it’s dangerous to continue letting children use these devices.
Everything about what happens to you when you use a vaping device depends on what you have in the vaping cartridge. The problems start when a consumer uses a cartridge containing nicotine for the first time. Nicotine is highly addictive. People who use it and continue to use it experience severe withdrawals and cravings when they don’t have nicotine after a period of time. Addiction of any kind is a problem, especially when unregulated companies are using nicotine to legally get customers hooked on their product, but the most problematic is when underage teenagers use nicotine.
Schools across America are rife with kids buying vaping devices and cartridges online in bulk and selling them to their peers. This creates a system where vaping companies are happily profiting off of their products being sold to kids who then become reliant on their product, forcing them to buy more. Companies are making billions of dollars, and we still haven’t addressed the problem.
If you’ve ever sold vaping cartridges to anyone underage, you’re part of the problem. You may say that at least there’s no harmful health effects, but that’s where you’re wrong.
We already know that inhaling the propylene glycol common in vaping instruments is harmful to the lungs. The intense heat in vaping tools may also melt a tiny bit of metal or plastic, causing the harmful inhalation of hard metals or plastic whenever you vape. Beyond this, we don’t know what’s in vaping cartridges, because as of now we don’t require vaping companies to provide accurate labeling to consumers.
Without regulation, these vaping cartridges could contain just as many carcinogens as cigarettes, or possibly even more. Right now we are allowing and abetting the sale of harmful and addictive drugs to minors, while standing by as these products are relentlessly advertised. The vaping industry is lining their pockets with vaping drug money as we speak.
The most obvious solution, in my view, is to classify nicotine as a controlled drug and to ban its sale outside of prescriptions for existing nicotine addiction. There is no reason for us to allow nicotine in any form to be legally sold to anyone without a doctor’s notice. It’s an incredibly dangerous substance that should’ve never been allowed to be sold so easily in the first place. Beyond that, however, are other methods of regulation.
One leading state to look to is New York. Right now, New York bans the use of e-cigs wherever cigarettes are banned, and it forbids e-cigs from being used within 100 feet of the entrances of public buildings. Not only that, but legislation is currently pending to include electronic cigarette devices in the definition of tobacco products, along with requiring e-cigarette vendors to obtain a tobacco license to sell e-cigs and increasing the tax on smokeless tobacco.
Additional pending ordinances would ban the display of e-cigarettes in retail stores, include all parts and accessories of e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products and ban the sale of all cartridge flavors other than menthol, mint and tobacco in non-age-restricted places.
All of these measures would be powerful steps forward against the unrestricted use and sale of vaping products. The part limiting the sale of cartridge flavors is especially important, given that exotic flavors appeal to teenagers most vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Lastly, a ban on the advertisement of vaping would go a long way in limiting its growing appeal.
There are a lot of political issues going on right now, but we can’t allow the growing public health crisis of vaping to fly under our noses. We can’t stand by as companies make consumers dependent on addictive cartridges with unregulated ingredients. If we don’t act soon, this problem will become so ingrained into American culture that it will be too late to do anything about it. But if we all work together to raise awareness of this issue and advocate for change, we can continue the process of weaning America off of nicotine forever.
Sam Mollin is a freshman from Mamaroneck, N.Y. He is a political science major.