States Fooled by Media Coverage on Vaping Epidemic

Climate change, gun control and LGBT or women’s rights seem to be the political issues with significant support from voters my age. But even with these issues, it’s only the politically savvy that really speak out about them. It’s only once in a great while that we see an issue every young voter seems to get political on, even if they don’t realize it. Enter the vaping epidemic.

If you search “vaping” in Google right now, you’ll see headlines about the so-called “vaping epidemic” that has affected over 1,000 people and killed at least 18 across the US. Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Rhode Island have all either limited or outright banned the sale of vaping products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared a nationwide outbreak of lung injuries caused by vaping. It certainly seems like there’s a crisis here.

The current media coverage of the epidemic and of the CDC’s investigation into the injuries is misleading. It is so misleading, in fact, that even state officials have been led into believing that statewide bans on vaping products will solve the crisis. The truth is, bans on vaping products are misdirected policy aimed at solving an issue that remains ambiguous, even according to the CDC. 

The vaping epidemic is actually two different crises. The first crisis is the one in which vaping products have caused the lung injuries. That’s the one we keep hearing about, with 18 people dead so far (obviously much more pressing than climate change, gun violence, and the opioid epidemic combined based off government action). A separate issue, which has somehow been lumped into the first issue thanks to how the media is covering it, is the distribution of e-cigarettes like JUUL to minors. While e-cigarettes are considered “vaping products,” the difference between the larger vaping epidemic and the illegal use of JUULs is that the vast majority of those 1,000 cases attributed to the use of vaping products involve THC, the cannabinoid found in cannabis, while JUUL and other e-cigarettes are being cracked down on for nicotine addiction. To be clear, vaping products with cannabinoids and e-cigarettes with nicotine are two completely different things, and each is the subject of two equally different issues (this isn’t to say vaping products that aren’t e-cigarettes don’t have nicotine). 

Why have they been lumped into one issue? Here’s what’s so surprising about these state policies: the CDC continues to state that the true cause of the vaping epidemic is unclear and is still being researched. If you don’t believe that, go to the CDC’s website on the epidemic. However, because the CDC cannot pin down a single cause of the over 1,000 cases of lung injuries, state and federal officials don’t know if they should target cannabis-based or nicotine-based vapes. Instead, states have opted to ban all vaping products. Media coverage of the two issues hasn’t helped, either. Rather, misleading portrayals of the two issues have caused panic among state governments and parents alike, while negatively affecting vape retailers and legal consumers. It seems that adults who have moved away from cigarettes to e-cigarettes in an effort to curb or even end their nicotine addictions are the demographic most hurt by these misdirected state policies. 

Two things need to happen: first, news sources must provide accurate coverage of the two issues and avoid using generalizations; and second, states must hold off, despite mounting pressures, on implementing outright bans on vaping products until the CDC concludes its investigation. It’s one thing to crack down on minors using these products (this I agree with), but it’s another thing to deny the privilege to adults.