Editorials

Washington lawmakers ignored the warnings. Vaping crisis could have been prevented

On Monday the Vapor Technology Association and one of its members, Baron Enterprises LLC, filed a lawsuit to stop the Washington Department of Health from enforcing its flavored vape ban.

The petition calls the state’s 120-day emergency ruling to ban flavored vapes “invalid.” On the contrary; it was long overdue.

If e-cigarettes were a pharmaceutical, they would have passed four clinical trials before being sold; if a food product had injured 1,479 people and killed 33 as vaping has in the last year, you can bet it would have been taken off the shelves.

Scientists suspect the Vitamin E acetate used to thin out THC oil is causing chemical burns in lungs, similar to those seen in World War I mustard gas poisoning, but the health indications of vaping are largely unknown.

According to a state health youth survey, 21 percent of Washington 10th graders and 30 percent of 12th graders vaped in the last 30 days; that’s a 10 percent rise in just two years.

But alarm bells over the rapid rise of e-cigarette use among teens went off in Washington long before anyone got sick and died. Why were they ignored?

In 2015, the state’s Secretary of Health, John Wiesman, asked lawmakers to approve a bill that included a ban on flavored vaping products. Lawmakers declined. Republican opposition blocked a similar bill the following year.

In 2016, Juul, a company that controls three-quarters of the e-cigarette market, sold 2.2 million devices. In 2017, that number increased to 16.2 million, reversing decades of progress on teens’ addiction of tobacco related products.

Lawmakers could have mitigated Juul’s soaring popularity, especially among Washington’s youth; follow the money and see why they didn’t.

This year alone, the national tobacco lobby spent over $13 million making sure no laws or restrictions got between consumers and their nicotine laced products.

Big tobacco even has its tentacles in our state politics. For example, most of our Republican Pierce County contingent in Olympia cashed $1,000 campaign donation checks from Altria Client Services, a parent company of Philip Morris USA.

A cynic might wonder why, after accepting money from the lobbying muscle of Juul, state Reps. Andrew Barkis, Morgan Irwin, J.T. Wilcox, Jesse Young, Michelle Caldier and Drew Stokesbary voted against raising the state’s vaping age from 18 to 21.

Or why, after accepting money, state Sen. Steve O’Ban, and Reps. Wilcox, Barkis, Caldier, Irwin, Stokesbary, and Young said no to taxing vapor products, especially when revenue from the tax goes straight to prevention and education efforts.

If politicians don’t want to look like they’ve been paid to protect big tobacco’s political interest and profits, they probably shouldn’t accept their money.

Fortunately, the vaping tax passed and is expected to raise $19.1 million over the next two years. Half of that money will fund cancer research, preventive programs and enforcement, and the rest will go into the state’s public health services.

And research is sorely needed. An NIH-funded study showed that vaping caused lung and bladder cancer in mice, but to date, there have been no toxicology/vaping studies on humans.

Consumers are now the lab rats. JUUL admits it hasn’t done “long term longitudinal clinical testing” on its products, but it found the time and money to contribute to political campaigns; and made the effort to market to kids.

According to a congressional investigation, children as young as eight have been targeted by Juul’s online advertising.

The company even sponsored a summer camp and collected data on young adolescent behavior and preferences. It worked. A new generation is hooked on nicotine and 97 percent of them started with flavored products like “gummy bear” and “cotton candy.”

Questionable marketing is why King County just filed a class action lawsuit against Juul, a company that controls three-quarters of the e-cigarette market.

Adults, not kids, should have the freedom to choose tobacco products or not, but they should first be aware of the risks. Until researchers and state regulators can provide answers, the Centers for Disease Control wisely recommends consumers refrain from using all e-cigarette and vaping products.

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