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Editorial: Sounding the alarm on vaping

In the past few years, vaping shops have been popping up like dandelions in a summer meadow. As news stories multiply about the possible dangers of using e-cigarettes, Buffalo’s mayor has called a timeout and New York’s governor has begun to crack down.

Both are welcome moves in light of the recent health scares.

The state Health Department has noted 41 cases of vaping-related illnesses across the state. All of the affected users were using vape canisters containing THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

Mayor Byron W. Brown last Friday issued a six-month moratorium on the opening of new shops that sell electronic cigarettes and related products.

Earlier last week, Delaware District Council Member Joel Feroleto sponsored a resolution requesting a study on the safety of vaping. The Common Council adopted it unanimously.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he wants to ban flavored e-cigarettes, which are popular with teens. The Department of Health is also investigating companies producing vaping substances and will require shops that sell e-cigarettes to post a warning about the risks.

Five deaths from a mysterious lung illness with a suspected link to vaping prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Friday to issue a statement urging the public to avoid using e-cigarettes. The CDC said it had found 450 cases in 33 states of a mysterious lung illness connected to vaping.

More than 210 cases of the mysterious illness have been recorded, landing many sufferers in the hospital with shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and fevers. Some medical officials call it an epidemic.

E-cigarettes came into popular use in the early 2010s, marketed as an alternative to tobacco products that could help smokers quit. The devices deliver nicotine, or cannabis products, using vapor instead of smoke.

As the use of marijuana has become legal in more localities in the past few years, vaping cartridges have become a popular delivery system for cannabis and related substances. People who vape THC appear to be at particular risk of getting sick, according to FDA findings.

Vaping juice already contains a number of different compounds. Mixing it with marijuana bought on the street introduces even more unknowns.

It’s unlikely that all the symptoms experienced by vape users are linked to cannabis. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in August it had received 127 reports of seizures or other neurological symptoms possibly related to e-cigarettes.

From a public health perspective, this much is clear about vaping: We don’t know what we don’t know.

The FDA has not done a thorough review of e-cigarettes to determine if they are significantly safer than traditional cigarettes, enough to offer a net health benefit. The agency only gained oversight of e-cigarettes three years ago.

Meanwhile, the FDA on Monday admonished the makers of Juul, the most popular brand among teens and young adults, for advertising that its product is a safer alternative to cigarettes. The agency sent a warning letter to the company threatening to issue fines or seize its products if it does not alter it marketing. Juul commands more than 70% of the nicotine-vaping market.

Even without the tar found in traditional cigarettes, nicotine is highly addictive and has been linked to cardiovascular disease. Liquid nicotine contains flavorings and toxins whose effects on health are unknown.

Buffalo’s mayor and council made the right call with the moratorium. Michigan last week became the first state to ban e-cigarettes. San Francisco banned e-cigarettes of all kinds. A concern with bans is that already addicted users will then find black-market sources for their vaping products, with even less regulation and oversight than what we now have.

Government bodies will need to proceed with care in figuring out how to best regulate the industry. In the meantime, let the vaper beware.

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