Over the years, the use of electronic cigarette nicotine delivery systems has evolved into “vaping”. We go to “vape shops” to purchase our devices and e-liquid. Unfortunately, e-liquids are not exclusive to “vaping”. A person may “vape” THC, CBD, LSD or even Ketamine. So, when I say to you, “I am vaping”, you are more than likely going to make assumptions about what it is that I am vaping. Most of the time, people assume that I am vaping an e-liquid for smoking cessation but unless they specifically ask, I am going to assume that they already know. We may both be wrong. That is where the misunderstanding begins and in the near future, may very likely end with the demise of the whole industry.
In 2019, people in the US began showing up in healthcare facilities with lung injuries and symptoms including: chest pain, cough, shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat, fever and chills to name a few. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “About 90% of reported cases require hospitalization. As of early 2020, EVALI was responsible for nearly 3,000 hospitalizations and almost 70 deaths.” This new condition was called “E-cigarette- or vaping-use-associated lung injury (EVALI)”. Despite the global use of electronic cigarettes, EVALI was almost entirely confined to the United States. That fact in particular should have alerted medical professionals that there was more to the story. EVALI may have been stopped much sooner if they had bothered to ask educated questions without prejudice.
EVALI was later discovered to be caused by the use of Vitamin E Acetate used with THC. Vitamin E Acetate isn’t even soluble in nicotine e-liquids. Our industry took a huge hit when it was associated with EVALI and the misinformation and misconceptions still exist today. The WHO, the CDC and medical professionals across the country were quick to jump on the blame wagon and many remain there to this day. Even the UK, where medical professionals have taken a more enlightened approach to the use of electronic cigarette nicotine delivery systems, suffered a major setback while promoting electronic cigarettes as a harm reduction alternative. The ultimate victims, however, are the millions of adults who could have been spared devastating lung diseases such cancer and COPD because of EVALI and a healthcare system that simply refuses to educate themselves and step outside of the rigid lines that govern their job descriptions.
The association with electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) with other vaping devices puts our industry at extreme risk for legislation and banning. Fueling this dynamic is fear, stigma and just plain ignorance. Mainstream media and organizations such as American Lung Association and The Truth Initiative, among many others are putting out information that is not factual. And they refuse to retract something once it is proven wrong. There is a lot of truth in the saying, “you can’t un-ring a bell”. They know this and they use this as a weapon. According to the FDA, we are part of the “tobacco” industry, implying that our products contain tobacco. Another misconception that was never corrected.
Our industry must divorce itself from the catch-all word “vaping” and begin to be very specific about who we are, what we do and what words we use. We need to establish ourselves as a separate entity, with the specific goal of harm reduction. and not allow society to continue to lie and put us in the corner. Each one of us need to step up and begin to educate and advocate. We have no defenders except our advocates in the industry and they are too few in number. No one is going to save us unless we begin, as individuals and as a collective, to save ourselves. Our most powerful weapons are the facts and our voices. Now we MUST use them!