Health concerns of vaping use spark controversy

E-cigarette use is increasing in popularity, while new legislation is being passed to combat it.

A student uses a JUUL on the corner of Broad and Norris streets on Nov. 7. | RYAN ENOCH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After starting vaping nicotine his sophomore year of high school, Andrew Zaayenga graduated a part of a senior class where “nearly everyone” was vaping, he said.

Now, the freshman undeclared major has carried the habit to Temple University. 

“I’m currently alternating between vaping and smoking cigarettes, but ideally I would like to completely end this addiction,” Zaayenga said. 

Among the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, vaping is in the midst of public controversy as hundreds of people have been hospitalized for severe lung injuries linked to vaping and e-cigarette use.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,290 cases of lung injury including 47 fatalities nationwide on Nov. 20.

Prior to the reports of death and injuries, Temple implemented a new tobacco-free campus policy on July 1 that bans the consumption of combustible tobacco on campus, including e-cigarettes.

Zaayenga’s experience with vaping highlights adolescents as the key demographic in combating vaping, said Laura Siminoff, dean of the College of Public Health.

“The fact is, more people start smoking in their adolescence than they do in their early 20s, so if you’re going to prevent vaping, the time to do it is in adolescence,” Siminoff added. 

Siminoff and Bradley Collins, a professor and director of the Health Behavior Research Clinic, served on Temple’s smoke-free campus committee. On Oct. 29, they co-authored an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, urging legislation to enact a total ban on vaping products. 

“The industry’s successful efforts marketing vape products to teens, coupled with the federal government’s inaction over the past decade, have played a role in this epidemic. In light of the current evidence, FDA approval of these products was a mistake,” they wrote.

A study conducted in March found 21 percent of the undergraduates surveyed at an unnamed university in the southeastern United States had vaped in the last 30 days, according to the Journal of American College Health.  

Siminoff and Collins wrote the piece to alert the public about “a looming public health disaster,” Siminoff said.

“To think in August, we were in the single digits, to now being here 24 deaths and counting,” she added. “And unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve seen the least of it.” 

From 2017-18, vaping nicotine increased from 6.1 percent to 15.5 percent of college students, according to the National Survey Results on Drug Use. 

The scientific community is still trying to understand the short- and long-term effects of vaping on users, which should have been studied before the Federal Drug Administration’s approval of vaping products, Siminoff said. 

Siminoff and Collins also advocated for raising the minimum age to purchase to 21 in their op-ed. On Nov. 27, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf passed legislation to raise the minimum tobacco purchasing age to 21, effective July 1, 2020, WGAL News 8 reported. 

JUUL, a flavored vaping device marketed as a tool to stop smoking, has been at the forefront of the vaping conversations in recent months, Siminoff said.

“The company has stated their product was only meant as a smoking cessation tool, yet there was never any data to support it was effective,” she added.

JUUL has been criticized for its marketing tactics, which targeted teens through flavored nicotine as well as misleading information about potential health effects, Collins said. 

“The vaping industry adopted that messaging and spun it in clever ways to make it seem quote-unquote ‘safe,’ which led to heavy use among adolescents,” he added. 

New York City Council approved a ban against all flavored e-cigarettes on Nov. 26, CBS New York reported.

Emma Deckop, a junior psychology major, believes that any progress made against underage cigarette smoking has been hurt by the emergence of JUUL. 

“It’s funny, when vaping first got popular people who had never smoked a cigarette before started vaping,” Deckop said.

Cigarette smoking rates among adolescents declined 25 percent from 2011-17, according to a survey conducted by the CDC. 

The vaping “crisis” comes on the heels of very successful anti-smoking campaigns, which saw unprecedented declines in youth cigarette consumption in the last decade, Siminoff said.

Deckop saw a reduction in vaping within her social circle in the last several weeks following health warnings from the CDC, she said.

“It definitely scared a lot of my friends into cutting back,” she added.

Deckop said most people she knows who stopped vaping simply picked up cigarettes instead, a trend she thinks will become increasingly common. 

“When you’re addicted to nicotine, it doesn’t really matter what form you consume it in,” Deckop added.

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