Take the cool out of vaping

Johnson City Press • Nov 25, 2018 at 7:15 AM

When electronic cigarettes came on the scene, they were billed as a tobacco alternative — a way for nicotine addicts to get the fix while avoiding the harmful effects of inhaling tobacco smoke.

And then vaping got cool.

It’s now the introductory smoking method, not the alternative. The Food and Drug Administration says the use of electronic cigarettes and other devices has increased nearly 80 percent among high schoolers and 50 percent among middle schoolers since last year.

So the FDA proposed new measures restricting and regulating flavored nicotine products. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb strongly condemned the vaping industry when he said the administration would “take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.”

Any safe measure that helps people break the tobacco habit is a plus. The health risks of tobacco use and their costs to society are too great to ignore. But Americans dove headfirst into vaping without full and clear indications about just how safe prolonged use is, and the jury is still out as to whether they simply replace one danger with another. Some studies show the products have toxic ingredients including carcinogens, but to a lesser extent than tobacco.

Nonetheless, nicotine is nicotine, and it will always be a decidedly addictive drug, regardless of the delivery method.

In his statement, Gottlieb said he saw his position as an opportunity to advance technology innovations for adults seeking nicotine without all the deadly effects of combustion, but FDA policy would not come “at the expense of addicting a generation of children to nicotine through these same delivery vehicles.”

He pointed to data indicating kids using e-cigarettes are going to be more likely to try combustible cigarettes later — a gateway of sorts.

“I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes,” he wrote. “We won’t let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build.”

The FDA is right to be so aggressive. So are school officials when it comes to local prevention and mitigation.

As Staff Writer Brandon Paykamian reported in Saturday’s edition, local school leaders already had vaping firmly on their radar with policies in place prohibiting use on school campuses. Policies no longer simply address tobacco. In Johnson City, they also reference smoking innovation devices in banning all nicotine products.

But Greg Wallace, the district’s safety and mental health supervisor, told Paykamian students are savvy about hiding their vaping, much as they would tobacco use. He encouraged parents to take more active roles in prevention via conversations with their children.

Parents should be glad the FDA and local schools have vaping in their sights, but as with all things related to children, the work has to start at home. Parents must make sure their kids do not see any nicotine use — tobacco or otherwise — as acceptable, trendy or fashionable.

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