If you weren’t concerned about vaping before, you should be now.

The government is calling out one maker of e-cigarettes and saying, “Enough.”

Juul Labs, the dominant e-cigarette company, illegally marketed its vaping products as a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration said this week, casting a deepening shadow over the safety of e-cigarette devices.

The agency issued a warning letter to Juul, saying that the company violated federal regulations because it had not received federal approval to promote and sell its vaping products as a healthier option.

The FDA’s action dealt a setback to the company’s efforts to rebrand itself after public outrage erupted over a surge in teenage vaping.

Last week, the Vermont Department of Health asked the state’s health care providers to watch for and report any suspected cases of severe respiratory illness associated with e-cigarettes and vaping.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 215 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with e-cigarette products have been reported in 25 states as of Aug. 27. Two deaths, one each in Illinois and Oregon, have been reported. Vermont health officials are investigating one suspected case.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine requested that providers report cases of significant respiratory illness among individuals with a history of vaping or smoking any substance in the 90 days prior to symptoms. The information will be shared with the CDC.

“This outbreak is disturbing, particularly because of how serious the symptoms are and how little we know about their cause,” said Levine. “We want to make sure we identify any Vermonters affected by this illness to better understand the situation.”

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, of New York, is slamming the FDA for contributing to the epidemic of teen vaping in the United States. The billionaire announced his nonprofit, Bloomberg Philanthropies, is pledging $160 million to fund a new program aimed at ending vaping among teens. It follows a new study that found flavor was the reason most young adults said they started using e-cigarettes.

“You don’t let the public do something while the science says it’s probably bad for you and you’re in the middle of conducting research,” Bloomberg scolded. “Wait until you do the research. If it’s no problem, no harm, no foul.”

Bloomberg was joined by Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which will be responsible for coordinating the push.

“The most important thing to understand is, in this country we have 3.6 million kids who are using these products. Over a quarter of them are addicted,” Myers said. “Most of them would never have used any tobacco product. We know that heavy doses of nicotine for those young people increases their risk of disease, increases their risk of smoking in the future and has a long-term harmful effect on their developing brain ... what we know is for our young people, who have never used any product, this product is harmful.”

According to the 2017 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, there was a significant increase in the percentage of students who had tried e-cigarettes, from 30% to 34%. Fewer than one in 20 adults said they currently use e-cigarettes.

Among high school students in Vermont, 12%, or 3,000 students, said they used electronic vapor products in the past 30 days, and 15% used them every day.

A recent PACE survey of young Vermonters conducted by the Health Department and the University of Vermont found that among those who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, 15% usually vaporized it.

“Youth, young adults, pregnant women and adults who do not use tobacco products should not use e-cigarette products,” said Levine. “If you currently use e-cigarette products, do not buy them off the street or modify them for unintended use.”

The FDA’s crackdown (and Bloomberg’s further smackdown) serve as a reminder that the health effects of e-cigarettes are not established. While no one product or company has been implicated, they are all complicit.

No company attempting to sell dangerous products to kids is above the law. Once again, we face a public health threat that encourages bad habits and has potential long-term health effects. And it preys upon our youth.

If you’re not concerned, you should be.

Smokers who are trying to quit should use evidence-based approaches that have been shown to work. Visit 802Quits.org to get more information and free resources.

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