The mysterious lung sickness tied to vaping has appeared in King County. Authorities here must now eliminate electronic cigarette varieties tailored to entice young people to start the habit and thoroughly research whether the devices are too dangerous to be legal at all.
Vaping has gone lightly regulated and under-investigated as the habit proliferated through the last decade. With more than 450 Americans sick, and six dead, in cases of the debilitating illness considered caused by e-cigarettes, it is time for earnest action at every level of government.
President Donald Trump said he would ban flavored vaping products, and he must be held accountable for following through, as quickly as possible.
Although e-cigarettes have been pitched to lawmakers and the public as a boon to getting cigarette smokers to quit that lethal habit, their widespread usage has proven dangerous. The American Lung Association warns that vaping can cause lung and heart diseases. A 2018 study of existing research from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine found significant gaps in what science knows about precisely how dangerous the devices are.
The proposed federal prohibition would stop sales nationwide of more than 1,000 varieties of flavored vaping products that constitute one significant part of the problem. Non-tobacco flavors have been disastrously popular as a gateway product for young vapers. A survey by Public Health — Seattle & King County found one-fourth of county high school seniors had used e-cigarettes in the prior 90 days, an unacceptably high figure.
Until a new state law kicks in Jan. 1 to raise the vaping and smoking age to 21, 18- to 20-year-olds can buy these products legally. Schools and public health agencies must step up the urgency of campaigns to educate teenagers about dangers of vaping while this outbreak is investigated.
Washington state government should not wait for federal action. Michigan this month banned flavored e-cigarettes. Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature should do likewise, and investigate whether further steps are needed.
The FDA has held authority to regulate tobacco products for a decade and has not, during that time, done enough to determine whether the products should be so widely available.
“These products are not safe, and we cannot allow the next generation of young people to become addicted to nicotine,” Dr. Ned Sharpless, the FDA’s acting commissioner, wrote in a public letter Sept. 10.
If these products are not safe, the government has a responsibility to protect Americans from them. It is not enough to pretend a crackdown on counterfeit vaping products alone will solve the health crisis now before us. Action must replace words, and soon.