Culture Clips: A Growing Cloud of Concern About Vaping

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The ongoing vaping health crisis has been a big story this week. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported at least 400 serious lung illnesses and six deaths linked to vaping. And the victims at the forefront of this epidemic are often teenagers and young adults. That figure is directly related to the prevalence of vaping among young people today. According to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of the nation’s 12th-graders in 2018 reported vaping nicotine at least once in the past year. The study also said the increase in vaping was “the largest ever recorded for any substance in the 44 years” that it has tracked adolescent drug use.

Ricky D’Ambrosio, who was hospitalized for 10 days (four of them in a medically induced coma) due to a vaping-induced illness, told USA Today that he and his friends tried cigarettes first, but vaping “was easier to hide from our parents.” He also estimated that at least half of his senior class was vaping in 2017.

One company being called out by name for the increased usage among teens is Juul, the e-cigarette producer that controls about 50% of the market. Juul devices cost just $35, and their sleek designs have often been compared to flash drives or iPhones. They’re small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and their discreet vapors don’t leave a lingering smell like cigarettes do, which is probably why they are easier to hide.

Much like its predecessor, Big Tobacco, Juul has seemingly marketed to youth while advertising supposed health benefits in comparison to smoking tobacco cigarettes. However, these “benefits” have been called into question lately, in part because a single Juul pod delivers as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. And a recent study by JAMA Pediatrics also showed that nicotine vaping among teens more than tripled the likelihood that they would use marijuana as well. On Sept. 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent Juul a warning letter for violating federal regulations by promoting its e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

These new studies have led several states to raise the legal buying age of tobacco products to 21. Perhaps surprisingly, companies such as Juul and Altria (the parent corporation for tobacco behemoth Phillip Morris) have supported the movement, called Tobacco 21, toward raising the smoking age and enforcing it more strictly. But Jeffrey Hardesty, research program manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Global Tobacco Control, said he was “skeptical of the tobacco industry’s sudden support for Tobacco 21, nothing that it “does not make amends for decades of obituaries.” However, since studies have shown that most minors who use nicotine often get it from older classmates or siblings, limiting older teens’ potential access to the products could theoretically reduce tobacco use among younger people.

For some, however, greater oversight and regulation of this relatively new industry has tragically come too late, as vaping has left many parents reeling. “Vaping scares me more [than smoking], because they don’t know what’s really in it,” said Jami Scheetz to Time, whose 15-year-old son was hospitalized after picking up the habit at school. Time also reported that “in eight months, unless e-cigarette companies can prove to the FDA that vaping is ‘appropriate for the protection of public health,’ the products could be pulled from the market.”

Vaping pens and e-cigarettes remain on the market for adults. However, both the CDC and the FDA have warned consumers against all forms of vaping. As Ricky D’Ambrosio reminded teens in his interview with USA Today,  “The end result of what could happen is not worth any high in the world.”

In other news, Hollywood’s awards season kicked off this weekend with the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards. Game of Thrones took home the Outstanding Drama Series trophy, which isn’t surprising since the show garnered more than 161 Emmy nominations during its run. The show’s wins on Sunday brought its total up to 47 over the course eight seasons, making it the most awarded drama series in Emmys history.

Sarah Silverman, whose series, I Love You America, was nominated for an Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, took the opportunity on the red carpet to address “cancel culture,” likening it to “righteousness porn,” Fox News reports. In the past, Silverman has discussed the trend of “cancelling” comedians in pop culture because old jokes that have retroactively become categorized as culturally insensitive or offensive. Silverman said,

If we’re for progress, being “progressive” means that you change with all the new information that you get. You let yourself be changed. To be progressive, and yet to still hold people accountable for something from another time that they’ve changed from, it makes me wonder. I have to ask myself, as I draw lines in the sand on social media, do I want this person to be changed? Or do I secretly want them to not be changed so I can point to them as wrong and myself as right? There’s a kind of pornography in that. I think it’s a kind of righteousness porn.

And when it comes to any kind of online criticism or controversy, damage is often done in a hurry these days. Last week, rising rapper Lizzo (whose track “Truth Hurts” is currently the longest-running solo female rap at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100) tweeted that a Postmates delivery girl had “stolen” her food. TMZ reported that the failed delivery was due to a “miscommunication,” and Lizzo subsequently deleted the tweet, but the damage was already done. The Postmates worker in question, Tiffany W., was hounded by superfans of Lizzo on social media, receiving threats from those who believed she was guilty. Lizzo apologized on Twitter stating, “Imma really be more responsible with my use of social media and check my petty and my pride at the door.” Unfortunately, Lizzo’s fans reportedly continued to harass Tiffany and call her out for a transgression that she never actually committed.