Vaping, the act of inhaling and exhaling vapor produced from an electronic cigarette or similar device has been around since 2003. As the industry thrived, specialized vape shops opened to satisfy the growing product demand. Now, almost 17 years after their introduction, lawmakers all over the country are taking action against the potential health risks of vaping.
"Today I'm officially declaring a public health emergency in the commonwealth, due to severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana-infused vaping products," said Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to the press on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at the State House. “This order prohibits the sale of all devices, all non-flavored and flavored vaping products including mint and menthol, and all THC or marijuana vaping products in the Commonwealth.''
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,291 hospitalized E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury cases as of Dec.3, and 48 deaths have been confirmed. The intake of nicotine in both vaping and smoking regular cigarettes can cause lung diseases, however, diseases associated with vaping are mysterious and not very well understood. At the ban’s announcement back in September, Monica Bharel, state public health commissioner, said to the press "We do not know what is causing these illnesses, but the only thing in common in each one of these cases is the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products. So, we want to act now to protect our children."
The popularity of nicotine vaping among children is part of what led to Gov. Baker’s decision to ban vaping products. Schools and parents have become increasingly concerned with kids’ embrace of vaping and possible long-term health risks. As people around the country begin to become ill and even die from the effects of vaping, the health risks and call for legislative action grew more urgent.
Although e-cigarettes and vapes have only been on the market in the United States since 2007, vapes have had a history much longer than 13 years. According to Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the first patent for a smokeless cigarette was granted to Joseph Robinson in 1930. It would be over thirty years before Herman Gilbert pioneered a prototype resembling the modern e-cigarette in 1963, and another couple decades after that before Phil Ray and Norman Robinson attempted commercial cigarette devices in the 1980s. This particular ‘vape’ was not electronic but instead relied on nicotine evaporation. Fast-forward to 2003, Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, created the world’s first commercially successful electronic cigarette. By 2006, they were being sold in Europe, and in 2007 arrived in the US.
Originally introduced as a “safer” alternative to smoking, e-cigarettes took off. Their success was immediate and their popularity only grew. As the industry began to expand even further, companies began to add flavors into cartridge-based e-cigarette pods. Once the e-cigarette vaporizes water and nicotine from a pod, the user inhales the vapor, thus the name “vaping.” Adding flavors to the pods increased their appeal, but these flavors weren’t just any flavors. Stores started selling mango, strawberry, candy, vanilla, and many more pod flavors, which attracted new users. This new line of products profoundly affected the vaping industry since its commercialization in 2003 because now there was a different and larger group of consumers: teens.
Suddenly, high schools around the country were plagued with vaping in bathrooms every day. Students who vaped either took their parent’s vape or simply bought their own online. The accessibility for vaping only made it easier for e-cigarettes to get into the hands of children who would get “hooked” on vaping, increasing the bottom line. According to the Pew Research Center, 31% of teens choose to vape just because of the availability of attractive flavors.
At first glance, the vaping ban seems reasonable. As a state, we will stop selling vapes and vaping products to prevent and research new and related lung diseases. We will also protect our children from vaping’s harmful effects. But one should also take into account who is being negatively affected by this ban. With a phenomenal demand from consumers, businesses exclusively catered to the sale of vape products. Locations such as the Vape Shop in Allston, Boston Smoke Shop on Newbury Street, or Beyond Vape in Sommerville all primarily sold vape and e-cigarette products. As a result of the ban, they will likely suffer heavily or close due to the fact that all of the money they invested to stock their shelves has been spent for nothing now that buying or selling the products is illegal. Furthermore, the ban affects many traditional cigarette smokers, who are frustrated and worried that they will now revert back to smoking traditional cigarettes.
Public health policy and consumer freedom are considerations that hang in the balance; that is the nature of such policy-making. Recently, a Massachusetts judge ruled that the ban will remain in place. Gov. Baker planned to lift the ban four months after it was instituted, but with such court ruling, the ban’s extension is expected.
Is vaping fated to burn out, or will we continue to light up?