Raising alarms about cigarettes and other tobacco products was one of the triumphs of the public health sector. While it took many years, a distinct and unmistakable message took shape: Cigarettes will kill you. Don’t smoke, or you’ll put yourself at risk for lung cancer and an array of other nasty diseases.
Vaping has threatened to undo all of that progress.
E-cigarettes and vaping pens promise delivery of the same chemicals but in a safer and more socially accepted way. The nicotine delivery systems have taken off, and public health officials have watched in alarm as the public health victory against tobacco now seems to be at risk.
New reports show how much is at stake. Reports have poured in from throughout the nation about sudden health issues striking those who vape. The reports, a handful of which have originated in Kansas, include cases of pneumonia and unidentified illnesses striking young people. Vaping, it seems, is not so safe.
According to the Washington Post this week, officials have been looking at the possibility that contaminants, likely used in knock-off or homemade vaping products, might be to blame. There’s also the possibility that increased visibility has artificially swollen the caseload.
Allow us to offer a simple piece of advice: Don’t vape.
Don’t assume that e-cigarettes are safe. Don’t assume that inhaling just any vapor into your lungs will be free of consequences. If you don’t use these products already, for goodness’ sake don’t start. And if you do, please give serious thought to quitting. We don’t need to repeat the public health toll caused by generations of smoking.
At the same time, we would urge everyone to continue watching the news carefully. It’s likely that we haven’t learned all there is to know about this recent spate of cases, and public health concerns like this one are often prone to hype. The number of folks reporting problems, for instance, is likely a tiny fraction of those actually using the products. And initial reports suggest that the issues are associated with black-market products, not those that have been on the market for years.
In other words, be cautious. And tell your friends and family: Vaping isn’t a panacea. It carries its own long-term risks and public health effects. This uncertainty makes it difficult for anyone to speak in absolutes — will this person or that be struck down with a vaping-related illness?
Who knows? The only way to be certain is to put down the vape pen for good.