How Did the Public Health Crisis Around Vaping Get So Bad?


In the past few months, a disturbing trend has emerged. More than 400 illnesses and several deaths have been attributed to vaping, an activity which was already being called “epidemic” due to high rates among young adults and teens [1]. Both nicotine and THC based vaping have been linked to sickness. A few toxic chemicals have been identified from common e-cigarette liquids, but vitamin E acetate is considered the most likely culprit. When the liquid is vaporized and inhaled, the tiny oil particles can coat the lungs and create inflammation [1]. Amidst this public health emergency, the F.D.A. has taken little action, preventative or punitive, against big e-cigarette companies.

The connection between some liquid vaping products and respiratory damage was not found through a thorough federal investigation. It was not discovered in data willfully provided to the government by e-cigarette giants. This trend was identified and brought to public attention by doctors who have treated these mysterious cases. The role of the F.D.A. in controlling nicotine substances is limited, and it doesn’t regulate THC products at all because they are illegal under federal law. The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said of the process, bluntly, “There is no oversight” [1].

On September 9th, 2019, the F.D.A. accused one e-cigarette company of illegal advertising– several weeks after the stories caught fire [2]. The administration stated that Juul marketed their products as safer alternatives to cigarettes without evidence. Though this is the scientific assumption, we really don’t know how much safer. Juul has been making these claims since the spate of illnesses incited backlash against the company’s original tactic of marketing to teenagers.

While the body’s responsibility to public health comes above all else, the F.D.A. shouldn’t over-regulate products that help people. Complaints of slow federal approval are common when it comes to pharmaceuticals, asserting that the sooner products can get on the market, the sooner they can improve people’s health. The general scientific consensus is that e-cigarettes are safer than their traditional counterparts. If vaping can help those already addicted to nicotine quit smoking, the F.D.A. should ensure a quick approval process to give people access. Overall, it’s important to strike a balance between a free-for-all and over regulation, but in this case the F.D.A. could have done more to prevent the crisis.


[1] S. Kaplan and M. Richtel, “The Mysterious Vaping Illness That’s ‘Becoming an Epidemic’”,, 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 17-Sep-2019].

[2] S. Kaplan and M. Richter, “Juul Illegally Marketed E-Cigarettes, F.D.A. Says”,, 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 19-Sep-2019].