Washington's Battle Against E-Cigarettes

With vaping and e-cigarette use on the rise, our region looks to cool the heat.

By Ryan Phelan December 23, 2019 Published in the January/February 2020 issue of Seattle Met

It’s been a little over a decade since e-cigarettes first sparked up in the United States, but in the years since they’ve become the most used tobacco product among American youth. In October 2019, Washington passed an emergency ban on flavored vaping products, followed a week later by a King County lawsuit against e-cig maker Juul. Here, a glance at the surging lung illness epidemic and what our region’s doing to tighten a once unregulated marketplace.

The Year, Inhaled

► July 2019: Congressional hearings detail that Juul had targeted schools and youth organizations across the country to present e-cigarette use as safe.

► August 2019: A patient in Illinois is first to die from vaping-related respiratory illnesses.

► September 2019: FDA issues a warning letter to Juul for advertising unauthorized tobacco products.

► October 2019: Washington State Board of Health approves 120-day emergency ban of flavored vape products. Later in the month, King County files a federal lawsuit against Juul and parent company Altria, arguing their marketing targets minors.

► November 2019: Juul announces it will no longer sell mint-flavored pods, a popular flavor among younger users.

The Scalpel, Not the Hammer

In November, former U.S. Federal Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb called for a complete ban on all Juul products. But Susan Collins, director of the University of Washington’s Harm Reduction Research and Treatment Center, argues that effective regulation may require more nuance.

"I understand the concern of public health officials [believing that] if kids get addicted to nicotine via Juul or vape technology, they could turn to smoking. And that’s true, but it’s even more true if we start to ban that technology. People will turn to the illicit market or they’ll turn back to cigarettes.” —Susan Collins, UW Harm Reduction Research and Treatment Center

The Smoking Gun

The CDC has linked vitamin E acetate as a potential cause of the surge in lung illnesses, which is found in bootleg THC vaping products.

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