Justin Wilson is just one of millions of Americans who uses e-cigarettes or vaping pens to help them quit smoking.
He started vaping with a Juul pen about a year ago, and occasionally used THC cartridges as well.
“[Vaping] was a safer alternative and I thought I could avoid the terribleness that cigarettes gave you by switching to a Juul,” he said.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the promise of e-cigarettes as a “safe” alternative to smoking cigarettes has been heavily marketed by some vaping companies, and the multi-billion dollar industry has ballooned in size in that time, mostly thanks to lackluster regulations by the feds.
Vaping steadily gained popularity over the years, but it wasn’t until 2017 that a brand-new product on store shelves would change the face of the industry – and the face of who vapes.
The popularity of Juul, a trendy product that’s as small as a USB thumb-drive and looks like something designed by Apple, soared among teenagers.
According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 3.6 million teens reported using e-cigarettes, most commonly with nicotine. That’s compared to about 2 million teens in 2017.
Dr. Bowerfind with The Oregon Clinic in Portland said many of these young people weren’t addicted to smoking or had even touched a cigarette before they started vaping.
“I think the initial intent [of vaping] was to foster a new nicotine delivery system that would help people quit smoking, but I think what it’s actually doing is giving rise to a whole new generation of nicotine addiction,” Dr. Bowerfind said.
And in comparison to that industry, cigarettes were around for about 50 years before the Surgeon General revealed just how dangerous they can be.
The vaping industry is still relatively young.
“The key message here is that safer doesn’t mean safe,” Dr. Bowerfind said of vaping as compared to cigarettes. “We just don’t know enough about the long-term effects of vaping.”
It’s also important to keep in mind the rise of e-cigarettes happened at the same time as marijuana legalization in several states. The sales of cartridges with THC oil (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) grew exponentially in states like Oregon and Washington amid a legal market.
Investigators still don’t know what product is causing the rash of vaping-related illnesses; those who have gotten sick mostly used cartridges with THC, while a smaller number used only nicotine e-cigarettes.
Some patients used a combination of both.