Vape companies and electronic cigarette manufacturers are receiving some pushback from lawmakers and the public, after a recent string of deaths and hundreds of lung illnesses have recently occurred, which health professionals are linking to e-cigarettes use.
Several states have already passed bans on flavored e-cigarettes, and President Donald Trump recently floated the idea of banning all flavored vaping products outright. Anti-tobacco advocates are calling for the popular electronic nicotine delivery systems to be taken off the market, as many believe the bustling industry is setting back efforts made to keep youth away from the addictive stimulant.
"It's getting to the point where we really have to have the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] step up on regulating our e-cigarettes to stop our tobacco companies from reversing what we have done for decades - all of our progress to keep them from addicting another generation of kids," said Carol Choate, coordinator for the TSET Healthy Living Program serving Cherokee County.
Meanwhile, those in the industry are worried that a smoking cessation device, which has reportedly helped people quit smoking, will be taken off the market at the cost of jobs, health, and civil liberty, ultimately creating a deeper hole to dig out of.
Richard Berka, owner of Brat Vapor Lounge, compared the legal use of e-cigarettes to the legalization of marijuana in Oklahoma and how former illegal-pot dealers are out of a job. Berka said putting a ban on vape products would essentially expand the black market and prevent legitimate vendors from ensuring the products don't go into the wrong hands.
"All of these states jumping in on a flavor ban are really creating a worse problem," he said. "If you start banning things, then the black market it just going to go up. Then underage kids don't have to be IDed at that point."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA, state, and local health departments are currently investigating the multi-state outbreak of lung injury associated with e-cigarette use. E-cigarettes contain a liquid that can have nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinoid (CBD) oils, and other chemicals.
Choate said that youth who vape or four-times more likely to begin smoking and that it should not be an alternative to smoking, as not many studies have been done on the use of e-cigarettes. She and the folks with TSET are responsible for making all of the schools, universities, and city-owned property in Cherokee County tobacco free and vape free.
"They're doing more and more research and the aerosol is not safe," she said. "Any level of smoke that you're breathing in is going to be deleterious for your health. It's not an alternative to smoking, which is the way that it was marketed by the tobacco companies at first."
The FDA also issued a warning to Juul, one of the predominant vaping companies implicated in the recent investigations, for illegally marking vaping products as less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. However, vape users still tout potential benefits from using the products.
Although Berka said he and many other vape shop owners are boycotting Juul for potentially marketing towards teens, many of the people in the industry still believe it's a better route to kicking the old habit.
"For me, I've seen drastic differences," he said. "I got better sleep at night. My diet got better, because I could actually taste foods. And then everything else came along."
For the most part, Berka doesn't think vape companies are marketing solely for children by promoting flavored products, as he said people "make the assumption that adults don't like candy."
He also pointed out that there are products like cotton candy-flavored vodka that aren't being banned.
"The vape industry was put in place to create an issue to an actual epidemic," said Berka.
According to the CDC, the specific chemical exposure causing the lung injuries associating with vaping remains unknown at this time, as no single product has been linked to the cases, and more information is needed to know whether one or more e-cigarettes or vaping products, substances, or brands is responsible for the outbreak.
The CDC has also released a recommendation that people refrain from using e-cigarettes while the investigation is ongoing. It also said those who currently use the products should avoid buying them off the street, and that youth, young adults, women who are pregnant, and adults who do not currently use tobacco products should not start using the vaping products.
Health officials and the CDC have recently indicated that the illnesses are possibly the result of unregulated THC vape cartridges being sold on the street.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, vaping is less harmful than traditional smoking, because it lacks the 7,000 chemicals found in regular cigarettes. However, JHM also said vaping is still bad for a person's health. It also stated that e-cigs are not the best smoking cessation tool.
One thing both sides seem to agree on is that parents should pay close to attention to what their children are doing.
"Our kids don't really understand the dangers of e-cigarettes," said Choate. "A lot of parents want their kids to be 'in,' so they buy them for them. So I think it's important that we get the word out, talk to the kids about the danger of nicotine, and be aware of what the devices look like."
Berka has banned people from his shop who he has learned bought vape products to later sell on the street. However, he said he has also seen parents walk into a convenient store to buy e-cigarettes for their own children.
"To me, there's a lot of parents that don't want to take responsibility for their kids," he said. "They want the government to babysit their kids and they want the schools to babysit their kids."
The Daily Press asked readers to weigh in on the situation during a recent Facebook Saturday Forum. Readers varied in their opinions. Many of the respondents want e-cigarettes banned and manufacturers held responsible.
"They are a health hazard and need to be banned," said Patti Gulager. "I think they should accept liability."
Joshua DeMoss also was in favor of banning them.
"Ban them. The only reason dangerous cigarettes aren't banned is because of the tax revenue," he wrote. "You're health is not the concern of politicians; all they care about is the dollar they can get."
Many of the respondents indicated people should be allowed to make their own decisions on whether or not vaping is for them.
"This is America not some dictatorship," wrote Justin Catcher. "Here's an idea… raise your children to know better and if they still chose to let them live with the consequences of their decisions."
Cherokee County Libertarian Party Chair Shannon Grimes pointed out that "tens of thousands of people die annually in the U.S. correctly taking prescribed medications."
"No one is calling for their ban and rightly so," he wrote. "People need to step back from the fear and hype to get a more accurate and rational sense of risk and danger. This is true on lots of issues from vaping to firearms."
Dale Crumby would at least like to see repercussion for adults who provide youth with e-cigs.
"Maybe not ban them, but high consequences for those supplying a teen with them," he wrote.