Electronic cigarette manufacturers like to tout their products as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes. But now people are getting sick, apparently after using these products, and many of the sick are teenagers, who are using the products in alarming numbers. Six deaths, involving adults, may be linked to them, as well.

Shops that sell e-cigarettes blame a dangerous black market trade for the problems, but one Utah lawmaker said he had an independent lab test vaping gels from shops in the Salt Lake area. Ten of 12 samples contained at least trace amounts of harmful chemicals, including PCP and THC, the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.

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Utah, it turns out, passed a law four years ago that includes a rule requiring retailers to sell only FDA-approved e-cigarette substances as of Aug. 8, 2019. That means vape shops should close.

Given the health problems manifesting themselves from coast to coast, enforcing this rule, at least until research can determine the source of the problems, would be a prudent step.

Meanwhile, President Trump appears on the verge of ordering a ban on the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes, allowing only those with a traditional tobacco flavor. This would eliminate the sweet flavors that seem geared toward attracting younger customers who are legally prohibited from buying the products but who seem to be doing so anyway in large numbers.

This would be another prudent step. 

E-cigarettes may not be safer than traditional cigarettes, and research so far has shown only a limited effectiveness in helping smokers wean themselves off traditional cigarettes. Some reports indicate a single cartridge of vape juice can contain nicotine equivalent to that of an entire pack of cigarettes. 

The danger is that young people are trying these products without knowing these facts, unwittingly addicting themselves to nicotine and perhaps other harmful substances contained in the vape juice. The FDA estimates 5 million minors, mostly of high school age, have used e-cigarettes recently, and that as many as 25% of high school students nationwide have used them within the last month, a figure 5% higher than the year before.

This comes after decades of anti-smoking campaigns had succeeded in greatly reducing cigarette smoking among young people. It represents an alarming new health risk to the rising generation.

Officials on both the federal and state levels have been too slow to react to this developing crisis. The FDA should be closely monitoring and controlling the ingredients of vaping liquids and treating e-cigarettes with the same scrutiny they give traditional cigarettes. The public needs verifiable facts about the products being legally sold to adults, and people, especially parents, need assurances the state is actively working to prevent shops from selling to minors. Then, investigations need to be launched into black market sales.

Finally, the governor’s office and the Utah Department of Health need to decide whether to enforce the law and make vape shops close until the FDA approves the use of certain products. 

Michigan already has banned the sale of vaping products that contain flavors. San Francisco also has enacted a ban. With about 500 people nationwide reporting vaping-related respiratory illnesses, the time for action has come.