New restrictions on vaping aim to fight vaping epidemic

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The Food and Drug Administration placed a restriction on the production and sale of most flavored vaping products, excluding the menthol and tobacco flavors, on Jan. 2. Manufacturers had until Feb. 1 to stop production and distribution of the banned flavors.

The ban largely focuses on cartridge-based, pre-filled vaping products, according to CBS News. This means products such as vape pens or other refillable vaping devices are not affected by the ban. In addition, according to University of Indianapolis Associate Professor and Director of the Public Health Program Heidi Hancher-Rauch, only the liquids that go into the vaping devices are illegal, meaning devices that hide vaping are not.

“The way I understand it, people can still buy the devices themselves, like the pens,” Hancher-Rauch said. “Now they’re even selling sweatshirts that look like regular sweatshirts, but with the cords that hang down, [so that] people can stick it in their mouths and vape.”

President Donald Trump also signed a spending package in December that included a policy provision to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. According to the American Lung Association, increasing the smoking age will help prevent high school students from purchasing tobacco products, as well as combat the smoking industries that target youth.

However, adolescents who are already addicted to smoking will now have a problem purchasing their products. Hancher-Rauch said that raising the smoking age will help, but she believes it could have been done more effectively, so people who are already addicted could prepare for the change.

“It’s great that [the government is] raising it because we know that the longer you hold off and keep people from starting using the products, the less likely they [people] are ever going to do it,” Hancher-Rauch said. “And from a public health perspective, the fewer people who start using those products [and] develop the long-term health consequences and/or die from it, the better in our minds.” 

According to Hancher-Rauch, a law that makes it illegal for underage people to buy vaping products and for the retailer to sell them is now being considered in Indiana. The proposed law, Senate Bill 1, was referred to the Indiana House Representatives on Jan. 27, according to the Indiana General Assembly’s website.  

As the ban went into effect, the lung condition called e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury, or EVALI, increased in cases nationwide. According to Indiana State Department of Health Field Epidemiologist Director Charlie Clark, the number of hospitalized cases across the country peaked in September and October, before steadily dropping towards the end of the year.

There have been 2,711 hospitalizations and deaths associated with EVALI as of Jan. 21, according to the CDC. In Indiana, there have been 124 cases of EVALI and five deaths from the disease, Clark said.

While researchers are still learning what specific chemicals in e-cigarettes cause EVALI, Vitamin E and THC are commonly seen in most cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 82% of EVALI patients used THC-containing products.

“One of the chemicals within the vaping products that we have seen most strongly linked to this EVALI outbreak is an oil called Vitamin E acetate,” Clark said. “It’s used as a diluent for some of those THC and other vaping liquids. However, we don’t have enough evidence to say that is the only thing causing this outbreak. There are other chemicals of concern within some of these products that could also be related to the clinical syndrome that we’re seeing.”

Indiana is currently educating parents and students on the dangers of vaping as a way to fight against the vaping epidemic. With vaping among Indiana’s youth increasing, Clark said Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana State Health Commissioner Kris Box have plans to address this problem through means such as a media campaign and cessation training for parents.

Hancher-Rauch recommends parents and teachers talk with their children about vaping, and that more resources such as cessation programs should be available for students.

“I think we need to be doing more on that primary prevention side—keeping [students] from starting—and then we need to have cessation components available in the middle schools [and] the high schools,” Hancher-Rauch said. “We should have vaping cessation program[s] here [at UIndy]. I haven’t seen it, if we have anything. I think we really need to make those more available to people. We need to increase awareness about it [vaping] and we need to help people stop.”

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