Should vaping be prescription-only?
- The FDA defines e-cigarettes as electronic “devices that allow users to inhale an aerosol containing nicotine or other substances.”
- A New England Journal of Medicine study on e-cigarettes vs. nicotine replacement therapy in smoking cessation found an 18% “abstinence rate” with e-cigarettes.
- The CDC reports that in 2021, one out of every 35 middle school students in the US had “used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days.”
- In June 2022, the FDA banned products from the popular e-cigarette company JUUL, following calls to action from state legislators that vaping “entice[s]young people to ingest addictive nicotine.”
In recent years e-cigarettes have come into the forefront of societal debate. Underage usage of vaping devices is increasing, and a lack of regulations has caused concern for their safety. However, e-cigarettes are much safer than combustion cigarettes, as Public Health England points out. Vaping is 95% safer than traditional cigarettes. Nicotine is addictive, but it does not increase the risk of serious health problems. Nevertheless, cities such as San Francisco are banning vaping devices until they are FDA-approved.
One idea to rein in the high usage of vaping products is for the FDA to regulate vaping as a prescription-only for smokers. Some might argue that this would reduce teenage use and control the quality of the products. But, the FDA has failed the public various times with pharmaceutical drugs in today's market. One-third of new drugs approved by the FDA have had safety issues, and they approve drugs faster than their European counterparts. Pharmaceutical agencies lobby and push their products, staining the integrity of the FDA. It is a misconception to think government protocols would only improve the quality of vaping products and safeguard underage use.
A better choice is to remove the sale of online vaping products until there is a better system in place to verify age. Enforce the age requirement—either 18 or 21—and severely penalize underage sales. Companies like JUUL have contributed $30 million for independent research and educational purposes. Educating the public is crucial. When all is said and done, however, it is the parent's responsibility to communicate with their children about vaping products.
Since their inception, electronic smoking devices such as vapes have been heavily marketed as a 'healthy' cigarette option. Smoking was in decline before the advent of vaping due partly to more awareness of the dangers of smoking, cultural changes, and limited marketing to children. Smokers flock in droves to vaping, which has none of these restrictions (yet). Vaping has effectively undone the roadblocks put in place by the smoking industry after the class action suits.
Vaping companies play a shell game with the public by insisting the purpose is to help smokers who want to quit, yet all the while targeting kids with child-friendly flavors and non-smokers with pseudo-healthy vitamin additives and click-bait bells and whistles on vaping devices. These marketing techniques distract from the health risks of vaping and impede the assessment of the long-term health effects of nicotine and additive aerosols.
If vaping is meant to help tobacco smokers quit smoking, then vaping should only be allowed as a prescription for those with proven smoking addiction. Requiring a prescription would allow for robust ways to collect data on the effects of vaping and provide oversight to devices and fluids manufacturers. It would also severely limit vaping by kids and the slick marketing campaigns to that age group. The industry should stick with its raison d’être and allow vaping products to be regulated by prescription. Still, in this free-for-all economy, it may turn out that greed is even more addictive than nicotine.