A suspicion that romaine or canteloupe or ground beef poses a threat to public health puts all hands on deck at restaurants and supermarkets to remove the suspect food. Get it off the market first and then ask questions.
The same strategy ought to be applied immediately to vaping devices, which have been linked to nearly 500 cases of lung illness in 33 states, including apparently six deaths. Many victims are young, many have vaped concoctions that include THC or other substances found in marijuana. No single manufacturer is linked to all incidents and no one cause has yet been identified.
There is a way to stop the poisoning at once. The Day joins the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in urging people of all ages to suspend their use of vaping devices at least until it is determined what is causing this outbreak. And we welcome the statements - at last - of the president and the secretary of Health and Human Services on Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration would “in the coming weeks” have a plan to remove flavored e-cigarettes and nicotine pods from the market. Even faster would be for the manufacturers to pull their products off market, as farmers and meat packers have had to do more than once.
The seriousness of the growing threat finally got a reaction after months of inaction by the Food and Drug Administration, perhaps because President and Mrs. Trump, as parents of a teenager, are concerned. Both were present at a White House announcement of the FDA plan to ban flavored vaping devices, which particularly appeal to adolescents. Also there were HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II and Dr. Ned Sharpless, the acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner. The ban would include mint and menthol, despite manufacturers’ contention that those are not “flavors.”
That is an overdue first step. If, as the makers have argued, the primary purpose of e-cigarettes is to help nicotine-addicted adults quit smoking tobacco, then why mango? It’s because fruity and sweet flavors appeal to teens and 20-somethings, who often begin their nicotine exposure with the very devices claimed to help adults stop. Growth in the number of young people vaping has been explosive. The New York Times reported the HHS secretary as saying that 5 million minors, mostly of high school age, said they had recently used e-cigarettes. About one-quarter of high school students reported vaping within the last 30 days in this year’s annual survey, up from 20 percent last year and 11 percent the year before.
The FDA’s handling of the whole question of whether vaping is safe for any age has been lackluster from the start. The agency has faced much criticism for lightly regulating the sale of nicotine devices even to adults, given the chemical’s addictive qualities and its potential to harm even when not paired with tobacco.
On Monday the agency did send a stern warning to Juul Labs, the highest-profile commercial maker of e-cigarettes, ordering the company to stop claiming that its products are less harmful than regular cigarettes. The company had been promoting them as “safe” at schools and summer camps.
Schools and summer camps? Come on. Who is minding the store? The FDA rebuke of Juul is too little, too late.
While e-cigarettes do seem effective in getting some people off cigarettes, their makers clearly intend them not as a maintenance medication but as a recreational device that creates a need and then fills it. Let’s call it what it is: a profitmaking product they are loathe to lose.
Some states have gone ahead of the FDA, with Michigan becoming the first to ban flavored vaping devices, and New York, Massachusetts and California considering it. And this week former New York City-Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Bloomberg Philanthropies would pledge $160 million to end teen vaping. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids will coordinate the effort to get rid of flavored nicotine products.
The FDA has sufficient grounds to ban the flavors right now and it should make haste. Its subsequent task should be to adequately examine the safety of any vaping at any age. The agency’s mandate is to protect the public from consumption and exposure to unsafe food and drugs. It needs to make up for time wasted.