On Tuesday, the number of deaths in the US caused due to the mysterious respiratory illness linked to vaping and e-cigarettes rose to 55, Reuters reported. As of December 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US federal agency, has reported 2,561 cases across the country who have suffered from the illness.
In September 2019, the Indian government banned the production, import, distribution, and sale of electronic cigarettes, with penalties ranging from Rs 1-5 lakh fine and 1-3 years imprisonment. The CDC is tentatively referring to the disease as EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury).
What are e-cigarettes, and what is the epidemic they have caused?
E-cigarettes, also called ‘vapes’ or ‘electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)’, are battery-run devices that were originally marketed as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. In recent years, there has been a deadly rise in nicotine addiction in the US, allegedly due to aggressive marketing by manufacturers.
Minors have been particularly affected, with a 2018 survey showing that as many one in five and one in 20 students going to high school and middle school respectively using e-cigarettes.
The disease ‘EVALI’ is unknown to doctors, and a link between vaping and the lung illness is yet to be concretely established. Symptoms, according to the CDC, are those in common with other respiratory illnesses, including coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, extreme fever or fatigue.
Have there been calls for banning the products in the US?
In September 2019, the Trump administration said that it would crackdown on flavoured e-cigarettes because of their appeal to the youth. The effort did not go through as lobbyists and advisors to the President told him that such a decision could cost him politically with voters who vape, Reuters said in a report.
In November, health officials said that they had found Vitamin E acetate, a ‘cutting agent’ (a chemical used to dilute or adulterate recreational drugs), in illicit vaping products containing marijuana components in 29 out of 29 lung samples collected from patients.
In December, the CDC recommended that patients diagnosed with EVALI who are discharged from hospital should have a follow up with a clinical provider within 48 hours, shorter than the previously recommended follow up time of within one to two weeks.
On December 31, promising a new strategy, Trump said, “We’re going to protect our families, we’re going to protect our children, and we’re going to protect the industry.” Starting May 2020, all e-cigarettes would have to undergo a Food and Drug Authority (FDA) review, and only those that can demonstrate a benefit for public health would be allowed to stay on the market.
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