Parents are calling teen vaping a more severe health crisis than any in decades and are warning others of the risks of electronic cigarettes as the number of deaths and lung illnesses associated with the devices continue to rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies are investigating 805 lung injury cases along with the deaths. Marijuana ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is suggested to have played a role in the outbreak, according to the center, which recently recommended people not to purchase products with the ingredient.
Erin Rice Mills, a New York mother and advocate from national grassroots group “Parents Against Vaping,” told The Epoch Times the rise of counterfeit vaping products, black-market vendors, and the lack of regulation are creating a toxic mix.
“It’s the ‘Wild West’ right now in the vaping industry,” Mills said in a phone call. “It really is an urgent matter that needs to be addressed.”
The advocacy group was formed in the spring of last year by three mothers who realized their teenage sons and their friends were using products from Juul Labs, a popular electronic cigarette company. They founded the group as a “grassroots response to the most serious adolescent public-health crisis our country has faced in decades,” per their website.
Vaping products can easily be altered through reselling or through the black market, according to Mills. Because of this, tracking the epidemic is difficult. Mills said e-cigarette companies such as Juul have failed to take action, and she called them unethical in their targeted marketing of their flavored products toward youth.
The exact cause of the recent spate of illnesses and deaths “remains unknown at this time,” according to the center, adding that its investigation is ongoing. Data from Wisconsin and Illinois showed that although no single brand name was reported by all patients, two-thirds of consumers reported using a prefilled THC cartridge under the black-market brand name, “Dank Vapes.”
“Now, you have kids who are addicted and who need it. A two-pack of Juul pods is going for $30 and kids are paying for it. Flavored e-cigarettes should have been off the market years ago,” Mills said. “It’s shocking to me.”
Most of the e-cigarette products contain nicotine, which the CDC describes as a highly addictive drug that can “harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.” Young people who vape are also more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
Mills said the marketing of flavored e-cigarette products to teenagers was highly unethical. She explained how Juul went into schools and Native American communities to try to market its products as a safer alternative to cigarettes.
“One hundred percent unethical in their marketing, they have shown zero corporate responsibility, they have shown zero personal accountability, and that is evidenced in the recent appointment of two Altria executives,” Mills said.
Juul’s former CEO, Kevin Burns, resigned last month and was replaced by K.C. Crosthwaite, a former executive at Altria, one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco and cigarettes. Juul, according to an Oct. 1 internal memo, recently hired a second person from Altria, Joe Murillo, who will be the company’s new chief regulatory officer. Murillo was Altria’s head of regulations.
“They [Juul] have learned nothing, they are all about the bottom line,” Mills said. “If the FDA is not protecting our children, then we parents have to stand up and protect our kids. This is crazy.”