Vaping is now a subject of intense debate: seven people have died and at least 450 have been hospitalised in the United States in the last month due to an outbreak of lung infections linked to e-cigarettes and similar products.
Last week Trump promised to ban the sale of most flavoured e-cigarettes in the USA. The governor of New York state, where up to 40 per cent of high school seniors use vaping products, has enacted an emergency ban.
The Indian government also made all vaping illegal this week, announcing that possession of e-cigarettes will be punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees (£550).
Before the surge in hospitalisations in the USA, some people were already raising concerns about e-cigarettes. In 2018, a study by scientists from Duke and Yale universities showed that the chemicals in vaping products that make the vast range of flavourings possible (from creme brulee to bubblegum) react to the ‘e-liquid’ in e-cigarettes. This creates new compounds which can irritate and inflame the lungs.
But the banning of vaping products is highly controversial. The long term health impacts of vaping are still unknown as e-cigarettes are such a new phenomenon; Public Health England (PHE) maintains that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.
Last year Professor John Newton, director of Health Improvement at PHE, said that, “it would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about safety.”
Trump has faced widespread criticism on social media for the suggested ban, including from high profile celebrities such as Alyssa Milano and legendary singer Bette Midler, who tweeted, “YES, IT’S TRUE!!. Melania, whose kid does not smoke, is worried about six people who died vaping, (according to #Bonehead, her spouse, the louse), but the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS who died in mass shootings and gun violence don’t seem to bother her! #Shejustdoesntcaredoyou.”
Much of the online backlash has focused on the hypocrisy of banning e-cigarettes at the first suggestion of a health risk while ignoring bigger dangers. To use Midler’s example, the Republican Party has opposed even a small stepping-up of gun control laws even though 100 people are killed by guns every day in the USA.
Another obvious comparison is that 1300 people die from smoking related illnesses every day in America, including from second hand smoke. Therefore, banning a less harmful alternative to tobacco cigarettes would seem counter-productive to improving public health.
The Trump administration has been particularly plagued by scandals in the last couple of weeks, such as Sharpiegate, the furore created after Trump incorrectly stated that Hurricane Dorian was forecast to hit Alabama and then drew a line onto a predictive meteorological map with a Sharpie pen after the storm hit to make it appear as if he had been right.
The US air force also announced it is launching a review into why there has been a significant increase in the number of military personnel landing at Prestwick airport in Glasgow, the closest airport to the President’s failing golf resort.
A potential conflict of interest is being investigated.
The vaping crisis seems to have provided a welcome distraction for many from these recent embarrassments for Trump and his administration.
Image: Vaping360 via Flickr