As cigarette smoking declines worldwide, tobacco companies have turned to a new product line to make up for lost revenue: vaping devices. Using an e-cigarette, vapers get a hit of stimulating nicotine without resorting to a burning stick of tobacco. These products are marketed as less risky alternatives to cigarettes, and some studies show they are, although there isn’t enough long-term data to make a definitive conclusion. Also, they may not be harmless, and some research suggests they lead young users to try traditional cigarettes. Consequently, vaping has provoked one of the most robust debates among public-health specialists in years. Some are pushing for curbs where they don’t already exist, out of safety concerns and fear the popularity of the devices will slow gains in the war on smoking. Others see vaping products as a valuable tool to help smokers quit, and thus as a means for accelerating that fight.
Declaring that the U.S. was experiencing an epidemic of teen vaping, the nation’s Food and Drug Administration in November announced plans to tighten regulations on e-cigarettes. Officials said vaping among high-schoolers rose 75% from 2017 to 2018, according to preliminary data. That meant that about 20% of the students were indulging. A single product accounts for much of the boom: the Juul e-cigarette. Created by two product designers who were ex-smokers, the Juul is sleek, so it looks cool, and it’s tiny, enabling the young user to palm it and discreetly take a hit when a teacher (or parent) isn’t looking. And, like many other vaping devices, its refills come in tasty flavors such as mango and mint. The FDA said it planned to limit sales of most types of flavored e-cigarettes to vaping stores and online retailers who verify a purchaser is 18 or older, restrictions Juul’s maker voluntarily adopted in the meantime. Of about 80 countries that regulate e-cigarettes, 29 — including Brazil, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Thailand — ban their sale altogether. Worldwide, the market for vaping products was estimated at about $11.5 billion in 2018 and is growing rapidly.