Is it true that e-cigarettes have caused deaths in the United States?
There have been six confirmed deaths connected to vaping across the US – in California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Oregon – as well as more than 450 cases of reported lung problems.
What have the authorities found out so far?
The federal government’s CDC (Centers for Disease Control) says no specific substance or single type of device has been linked to all cases. But in most cases – about 80% – people have said they were using liquids that contained cannabinoid products, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Most of those are said by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is investigating with the CDC, to also contain a substance called vitamin E acetate. It appears some people may have bought their e-cigarettes or other devices off the street.
What is the advice in the US?
The CDC is suggesting anyone who vapes should consider stopping during its investigation. Young people and pregnant women should not use e-cigarettes at all, it says. It advises people who are using e-cigarettes to try to stop smoking to consider other methods, such as counselling or medication.
Is vaping dangerous?
It depends who you talk to. Public Health England and most, but not all, of the public health community in the UK say it is not dangerous. PHE is on record as saying it is 95% safer than smoking – which kills half of all of those who take up the habit. UK scientists and campaigners are focused on e-cigarettes as a way for adults to quit smoking.
In the US, however, there is far more interest in the chemicals contained in e-cigarettes and the possibility of any toxicity. Experts are not convinced that e-cigarettes can help people stop smoking and talk of potential harms and unknown risks rather than possible benefits.
Why does Donald Trump want a ban on e-cigarette flavours?
There has been an outcry over young people in the US using Juuls, a trendy device that looks like a USB stick, with stories that huge numbers of children and young adults who did not smoke are becoming hooked on nicotine. Without the flavours, Juul and other e-cigarettes would be less attractive to young people, it is believed. So in the wake of the lung disease scare, the president is telling the FDA to ban them.
Why isn’t Juul said to be having the same effect on children in the UK?
It is not the same product. The absence of regulation in the US means there is no cap on nicotine levels in e-cigarette liquids, making stronger doses more addictive. The UK has a strict limit, thanks to an EU directive now enshrined in British law.
In the US it has been illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors since 2016, but advertising and marketing to adults is allowed. The FDA is moving, however. It has instructed all manufacturers to submit lists of ingredients and to put warning labels on their products about the addictive nature of nicotine. Frustration at the slow progress of regulation is said to be one of the reasons the city of San Francisco has passed a law to ban vape shops from next year.