Anyone who has tried to throw away a battery in recent years understands that some things are dangerous, and you can’t simply put them in the trash and hope they go away.
The same thing is true of flavored disposable vapes. They are harmful for more than one reason. We shouldn’t treat them any differently from non-disposable or reloadable vapes just because we can throw them away. Moreover, we can’t simply hope the flavored disposables will go away. We need to make them go away by banning them.
Flavored disposable vapes are especially a threat in our state. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, roughly 20% of the state’s 12th-graders vape electronic cigarettes, and a 2020 Arizona Youth Survey “confirms these statistics are more than twice the rate of teens who smoke traditional cigarettes.”
These young people use flavored disposable vapes because they are what is available. Three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration issued an order to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but it only cracked down on the sort you can reload. It has continued to allow the sale of disposable vapes you can buy and throw away.
At the time, President Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who oversaw the FDA, said that, “by prioritizing enforcement against the products that are most widely used by children, our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth.” He said that “we will not stand idly by as this crisis among America’s youth grows and evolves, and we will continue monitoring the situation and take further actions as necessary.”
Of course, that is the opposite of what is happening. By allowing flavored disposable vapes, the federal government is making it all too easy for Arizona’s youth to vape. That is hurting our kids.
“In the last 24 to 36 months, I’ve seen an explosive uptick of patients who vape,” a thoracic cancer surgeon told Johns Hopkins Medicine. The long-term damage will be severe.
Vaping is hurting everyone else in school as well. At an Arizona middle school last year, students told administrators that they sometimes go all day without using the restroom because they are fearful of encountering other students vaping and are worried they would be falsely accused and suspended from school.
The FDA inadvertently looking the other way on flavored disposable vapes is not just hurting Arizona’s kids; it’s also presenting serious consequences for the environment.
For example, Bloomberg reported that three fires broke out in a disposal facility in the U.K. recently. “In each case, the chief suspects were disposable vaping devices containing lithium batteries.” Even when they don’t burn, “the brightly colored e-cigarettes are also flooding the environment with plastic waste, creating an eyesore in parks and across city centers.”
Here in the U.S., a survey shows that some two-thirds of disposable vapers throw the empties in the trash. Only 8% report sending the vapes to proper recycling facilities. Truth Initiative did some math: “With 19 percent of current vapers tossing five or more vapes in the trash every month, empty disposable e-cigarettes are piling up and contributing to a growing global e-waste problem.”
Arizona’s Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is taking the matter seriously and has co-sponsored critical legislation that will close the vaping loophole. Others in the congressional delegation should do the same.
It is obvious that the current federal flavored vaping “crackdown” is toothless and not working. We need Washington to tighten up the regulation by adding flavored, disposable vapes aimed at young people to its list of problem products. The health of our society depends on it.
Eric M. Ossowski M.D. is a family medicine specialist and assistant clinical professor for family community & preventive medicine at The University of Arizona, College of Medicine Phoenix. Melanie D. Cloonan-Schulte M.D. is an internal medicine specialist in Chandler that has over 20 years of experience in the medical field.