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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Juul takes positive, necessary steps in light of vaping illnesses

A month ago, following reports of vaping illnesses in the U.S., including Indiana, News-Sentinel.com called for caution in rushing to judgment against companies who manufacture electronic cigarettes due to the lack of federal regulations for the wide variety of products on the market.

Now the increasing number of deaths reported from such illnesses as well as the explosion in teen vaping has increased the calls for banning e-cigarettes. But we think banning the product is premature, and we encourage the steps being taken in setting standards for a largely unregulated industry.

The Associated Press reported this week that the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, Juul Labs Inc., will stop advertising its e-cigarettes in the U.S. and has replaced its chief executive.

Over the summer, health officials in states surrounding Indiana began reporting that people were developing severe breathing illnesses, and the only common factor was that the patients had all recently vaped. Indiana health officials put the state on alert, but soon cases turned up here as well. Now more than 500 people in the U.S. are suspected or confirmed to have gotten the illness, and at least 10 have died, including one in Indiana.

Juul and other brands are fighting to survive as they face the backlash from this public health crisis. Now, federal and state officials have seized on the recent outbreak of lung illnesses to push through restrictions designed to curb underage vaping.

We have consistently urged restrictions on vaping for youth, including raising the age for use of e-cigarettes as well as tobacco products from 18 to 21, because underage vaping has reached epidemic levels. In a government survey, more than 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month despite current federal law that bans sales to those under 18.

Last month we reported that Indianapolis, South Bend, Columbus, Carmel and Greenwood included e-cigarettes in their local smoking restrictions. Michigan, New York and Rhode Island banned vaping flavors this month, while the AP reported Massachusetts plans to stop sales of all vaping products for four months, the first such step in the country.

We have warned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes e-cigarettes is attracting kids and introducing them to nicotine, which could potentially get them hooked on tobacco products in the future. That development is counterproductive to the belief that vaping devices, such as Juul, seem to be an important substitute for cigarettes and have helped accelerate a decline in smoking for adults trying to quit.

Juul’s new chief executive, K.C. Crosthwaite, said in a statement that while his company focuses on providing adult smokers with alternatives to tobacco, it has recognized there are “unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry.”

Facing investigations from Congress, federal agencies and state attorneys general, Juul has taken a series of voluntary steps, AP reports, including halting retail sales of several flavors and shutting down its social media presence.

Health officials realize that the contents of vaping products is not well understood. The cause of the recent illnesses is still unknown.

Allen County Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan told us in an email recently that while there is a lot of research yet to be done on what’s in e-cigarettes, a recent study published in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) said “more teens are being exposed to secondhand smoke from vaping, and this aerosol of ultrafine particles does contain harmful substances, including formaldehyde.”

Likewise, Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, told us that besides formaldehyde and nicotine, e-cigarette vapors “contain heavy metals … acrolein, and many of the same cancer-causing chemicals that are in tobacco smoke.”

In an Aug. 30 editorial we agreed with City Councilman Dr. John Crawford that there is not enough data on e-cigarettes to ban them outright. “There is a jumble of information,” he said, arguing that because vaping products are not standardized, people don’t even know what they are using.

“I think this rush to judgment is extraordinary, and we might be looking at the demise of vaping,” Kenneth Warner, professor emeritus at University of Michigan’s school of public health, told the AP.

He said Juul made “enormous mistakes” in its early advertising campaigns, using young models, bright colors and youth-oriented catchphrases.

But the current search for the cause of vaping illnesses, proposed federal regulations of what substances can be contained in e-cigarettes and restricting their use to those 21 and older may result in preserving what seems to be a means of helping adult tobacco users kick the habit.

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