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In our opinion: Vaping is not harmless, but too many believe the opposite

Aubree Butterfield, who was recently treated at the University of Utah Hospital for lipoid pneumonia linked to vaping, is pictured at her parents' home in Brigham City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. Earlier in the day, Butterfield joined doctors in discussing
Aubree Butterfield, who was recently treated at the University of Utah Hospital for lipoid pneumonia linked to vaping, is pictured at her parents' home in Brigham City on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019. Earlier in the day, Butterfield joined doctors in discussing the dangers of vaping during a press conference at the Salt Lake hospital.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The federal Food and Drug Administration has dawdled when it comes to attacking the emerging wave of electronic cigarette products that are gaining a foothold on America’s youth. That’s inexcusable, considering the many years of consistent efforts that have reduced traditional cigarette smoking over the past 50 years.

Utah doctors brought the hazards of e-cigarettes into focus last week as pulmonologists at the University of Utah Hospital held a news conference to discuss some recent cases. These included a young woman who experienced symptoms similar to a rare lipoid pneumonia after regularly smoking the devices. She now uses an oxygen tank.

They included a young man who experienced constant coughing and vomiting, and whose symptoms progressed until his lungs began to fail, requiring him to be on life support for five days. Now he uses a cane to keep his balance, and his recovery is slow.

The message these cases forcefully conveyed is that vaping, as e-cigarette smoking is called, is not harmless. Too many young people apparently believe the opposite.

Recent news stories have documented cases in which vaping devices have exploded, causing major structural damage to the user’s face, further bolstering the case against these products. Also, a recent study published by Science Daily found links between vaping and an increased risk of coronary artery disease, circulatory problems, depression, anxiety and other emotional problems.

Apparently, teenagers aren’t getting the message, or they are choosing not to hear it. Recent surveys have found more than a third of high school seniors nationwide admitting to smoking these devices within the past year. Utah health officials have reported alarming rates of usage in this state, as well.

Three years have passed since the FDA gained authority to regulate e-cigarettes the way they do other tobacco products. But, as The Hill recently reported, the agency decided to delay doing this until 2022 after the Trump administration took over. That date subsequently was moved up to 2021, but it has left e-cigarettes in regulatory limbo.

That doesn’t mean the agency has done nothing. Last week the FDA issued warning letters to four tobacco companies, demanding they stop selling 44 flavors it said were being sold illegally because they were not approved by the agency.

The FDA also has launched TV ads using a famous magician in an attempt to educate young people about the dangers of e-cigarettes. However, the effect of these ads is doubtful, considering the changing media consumption habits of teenagers.

Meanwhile, the study that linked vaping with coronary diseases found there are more than 460 e-cigarette brands and 7,700 flavors being offered for sale. These are available in retail stores and online, which is most troubling for those trying to curtail them.

No one seems to have a firm grasp on the ingredients of these products, and their effects are becoming known gradually as people show up in emergency rooms. That’s no way to protect the youth of America.

Clearly, the FDA should make this a higher priority and should consider tighter controls over the sale and distribution of these products. Manufacturers claim that vaping helps adults quit their dependence on traditional cigarettes. These claims deserve thorough study, but regulators should not wait to take strong measures that ensure only adults are able to obtain the devices.