Planet of the Vapes
Whether used to fill Snapchat feeds with videos of smoke rings, or to wean ex-smokers off of nicotine addictions, vape pens and flavored e-cigarettes have seen a meteoric rise in usage, especially among young people. This ‘vaping’ trend, due to a lack of long-term studies analyzing its health effects, has been met with heavy concern about its effect on the health and development of those who partake in it.
Recently, the FDA met with executives from the top five manufacturers of e-cigarettes—who together represent 97 percent of the market—in hopes of reducing the increasing teen use of e-cigs. Preliminary federal data show the number of high school students, most of which are under the required age of 18 to purchase cigarettes, who use e-cigarettes surged 77 percent this year, prompting the FDA to take action. Worries have stemmed largely from nicotine’s ability to lead troubled teens down a slippery slope in terms of smoking, as well as any unknown effects that e-cigarettes could have on health. One e-cigarette manufacturer, Altria Group, vowed to stop selling their pod-based e-cigarettes until they either get federal clearance, or the youth use issue is addressed. Altria holds 9% of the e-cigarette market domestically, and thus this news could send a shockwave to their competitors. Altria’s decision to slow its own business in response to irresponsible teenage usage begs the question: to what extent should a company have to halt production on the grounds that their product has unknown or potentially unhealthy side effects?
On one side, it could be seen as the ideal form of capitalism: that a company should be able to sell anything they wish, with the customers being able to choose for themselves whether or not they should purchase it. This was the issue with real cigarettes; companies cheated consumers into making blind decisions, because media and pack labels neither admitted to nor warned people of the harmful and deadly effects of cigarettes. Here, the cigarette companies held full culpability due to the fact that they withheld important health data, and created the inaccurate perception in the media that there was uncertainty regarding the link between cigarettes and cancer.
It is just as much a staple of capitalism that the consumers should be given the knowledge of the potential consequences of their purchases before they can decide whether or not to consume them. This is difficult information to provide given the jarring lack of long term studies on e-cigs, and companies would favor having nothing on their labels rather than putting eye-popping warnings on the front of every pod pack. By removing their line of e-cigarettes with flavors like fruit punch and mango, e-cigarette companies can reduce the perception of vaping as a fun, trendy thing to do and replace it with a more serious image as a product used by those who may be more responsible users.
Without knowing the exact effects of the e-cig usage, it is misguided to assume its relative safety. Until we know more about possible risks, including cancer, it is imperative that the public understand these are still products that encourage inhaling potentially harmful chemicals from juuls, flairs, drops, vape pens, or any of the like.