Flavor Bans, Illnesses & Media Confusion: What Do We Know & How To Make Sense Of It

Tons of confusing, scary headlines have been bombarding us recently in the news: VAPE RELATED ILLNESS! 5 DEAD FROM MYSTERIOUS LUNG DISEASE! TRUMP TO BAN E-JUICE FLAVORS IN MIDST OF VAPING ILLNESS OUTBREAK! 

 

And much more eye-catching, fear-raising articles for the masses to consume and share via social media and the internet. But in the mix of all this information, it seems that we fail to understand the facts presented to us. Maybe it’s the mainstream media’s goal to confuse or push their agenda on us — like that’s never happened in the history of the United States. Even so, there is information to be learned, if only we wanted to seek it.

         

In this article, I will seek truth for us by raising several questions and answering them to help everyone understand the convoluted information out there on flavor bans; reports about the health risks of the vape-related lung disease; and the role of media, government, and Big Tobacco in this story. 

 

What Are the Facts on Flavor Bans?

On September 27th, 2019, USNews.com by Kaiser Health News and CNN.com reported the following details on states and cities that are currently enacting flavor bans or considering it:

 

  • New York state has passed a statewide flavor ban on e-liquid.
  • Michigan has enacted a statewide flavor ban on e-liquid.
  • Rhode Island has enacted a statewide flavor ban on e-liquid.
  • Massachusetts has prohibited the sale of all vaping supplies and e-juice for four months.
  • Washington state has enacted a statewide flavor ban on e-liquid for 120 days.
  • Utah has enacted a statewide flavor ban on e-liquid except for adult only tobacco retailers
  • California has rejected a statewide flavor ban on e-liquid – BUT more than 50 California jurisdictions have enacted or are considering enacting flavor bans on e-liquid. The cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles have already enacted citywide flavor bans on e-liquid.

 

According to Mike Feuer, the City Attorney of Los Angeles: “Enacting a citywide ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products is the best way to safeguard our youth and protect the general public from significant health risks.” Mr. Feuer is referring to the increase in teen vaping, and the notion that flavors are “tempting” children into vaping, thereby exposing them to these “significant health risks.”

 

But what are these “significant health risks” that many like Mr. Feuer believe are associated with vaping? And why, oh why, are only FLAVORS being attacked for these health risks? It is asinine to ban only certain flavors! For example, menthol and cigarette flavors are both okay, so go figure, but if a particular product is a health risk, why not ban the whole product then? 

 

The answer is an easy one! No (known) significant health risks – associated with vaping exist, and no reputable study has reported the dangers of vaping. However, Big Tobacco has funded short-term studies recently to help create the ban on vaping because they want money to return to their pockets through the fear-mongering tactics. Thus, more medical research and science-based studies must be conducted for decades before sufficient evidence can determine any significant health risks. Vaping has only been mainstream since around 2003, beginning in China and expanding across the world, so

 

It’s just recently that the U.S. has started investigating claims about the risks of vaping and the effects of long-term vaping. In my opinion, the most reputable unbiased report done on e-cigarettes was “Nicotine Without Smoke,” a report by the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians done in April of 2016.

If you haven’t read this report, you should! It contains valuable information on combustible cigarettes and presents the facts about vaping risks and potential harm. You can read the entire project for yourself at this link: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/nicotine-without-smoke-tobacco-harm-reduction-0 by downloading the document through the link at the bottom of the page.

 

To refrain from just quoting the entire passage, I will focus on the most pertinent facts from the report:

 

  • “[…] short-term adverse effects relate predominantly to mouth and throat irritation and tend to be self-limiting.”
  • “Analysis of vapor generated by e-cigarettes has identified a number of potentially harmful constituents delivered alongside the nicotine and other e-liquid components. These include volatile organic compounds, carbonyls, aldehydes, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), and metal particles, but all at much lower levels than in cigarette smoke.”
  • “Levels of formaldehyde and other aldehydes can be relatively high when vaporization occurs at high temperatures, although in practice this overheating generates an aversive taste known as a ‘dry puff,’ which vapers avoid.”
  • “In normal conditions of use, toxin levels in inhaled e-cigarette vapor are probably well below prescribed threshold limit values for occupational exposure, in which case significant long-term harm is unlikely.”
  • “Vapor produced from e-liquids containing flavors has been demonstrated to be more cytotoxic than unflavored vapor and, although both are far less so than tobacco smoke, this exposure may increase airway inflammation.”
  • “Although no study so far shows any clear hazards of flavors in e-cigarette vapor, those derived from flavors seem the most likely to pose appreciable health risks from long-term use.”

 

Nevertheless, this report concludes that the long-term health risks associated with vaping “are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products and may well be substantially lower than this figure.”

 

So, what significant health risks are we banning flavors for when there is no clear substantial evidence to suggest any harmful threat to health and safety? I can tell you what I do know, and what most every human of sound mind knows, combustible cigarettes pose a considerable health risk for youth and the general public and are the most significant cause of preventable death in the U.S. We see 480,000 deaths annually. Why are we not talking about that? 

 

The CDC has the facts posted: “E-cigarette use among middle school and high school children is up, but cigarette use is down to 1.8% in middle school children from 4.3% in 2011, and in high school children, it’s down to 8.1% from 15.8% in 2011.” No respectable adult, vaper, vape shop, or vape advocate wants to see children vaping, but everyone should want to see kids not using combustible cigarettes. Let’s give Mr. Feuer the benefit of the doubt and assume he is referring to this mysterious vaping disease that’s come upon us like a plague. Well, if we look at the facts, we will be able to see that it is not that mysterious after all.

The Vaping Illness Mystery 

The numbers seem to fluctuate from article to article. However, on September 27, 2019, USNews.com by Kaiser Health News reported that there was a total of 805 vaping related illnesses under investigation, which includes at least 24 deaths and spans across 46 states.

 

Besides, according to an article written by Jacqueline Howard for CNN.com, “The specific chemical exposure causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use currently remains unknown, according to the CDC…There are signs that point to a majority of patients vaping THC products.” So, the CDC is admittedly telling us that no, they have not identified a chemical contained within e-liquid that is causing lung injuries.

 

Despite their attempts to find some mystery chemical, unfortunately (or fortunately), it is just not there to see. If there had been, I have to think that they would have found it by now. As a result of the investigation into cases within the state, New York health officials have identified a chemical that may indeed be making people sick, but not specifically within e-liquid.

 

New York state health official’s investigation into the mysterious lung injuries and vaping concluded that there were “extremely high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing vaping products that were analyzed. At least one vape product containing this chemical has been linked to each person who fell ill and submitted a product for testing in the state.” Although the CDC’s official website and updates do not mention vitamin E acetate as a chemical that they found, take a second to reread the facts mentioned above and let it sink in.

 

The majority (nearly all) of THC cartridge vapes (because that’s what they are) tested in NY state contained dangerous amounts of vitamin E acetate. Each ill-affected person who submitted a product for testing had vitamin E acetate in it. Therefore, as stated earlier, the CDC did not find vitamin E acetate or any other “specific chemical” in e-liquid. The FDA’s official website makes a point to state, “No one substance has been identified in all of the samples tested. Importantly, identifying any compounds that are present in the samples will be one piece of the puzzle but will not necessarily answer questions about what is causing these illnesses.”

 

However, even if there are claims of “no one substance” or vitamin E acetate found, and no specific harmful chemical exists in e-liquid, the FDA seems to hint at yes. In other words, they found toxic chemicals in some products (i.e., the illicit THC products) that they tested and determined to contain vitamin E acetate.

               

Now, this is where things get interesting. A man by the name of Ben Camarillo out of Texas is one of the victims of this vaping illness. He was interviewed by a local news station, News Channel 7, by a reporter named Lamyiah Harvel. This story aired on local TV, and according to Ben, they misrepresented him. Ben got together with a local vape shop owner whom they also interviewed to expose the false information. In the video, Ben has breathing tubes – to and from his nose – as he lays in a hospital bed. He says, “I immediately knew what it was from. It was from vaping.” 

 

The video then cuts, and Ms. Harvel goes into dishing out stats of the recent vaping illness. Ben claims that this statement was cut off, and he had ended that sentence with “THC cartridges.” Ben further explains, “I told them I never vaped nicotine, only THC products,” and, “They threw the vape industry under the bus for it.” He also makes mention of the fact the THC products were purchased from licensed dispensaries, although Ben does not confirm that fact with proof in the video.

 

The entire report concentrates mainly on e-cigarette use and portrays Ben as if he is an e-cigarette user and never definitively states he was using THC products. Ms. Harvel then refers to Mark Sigler M.D., a pulmonologist and intensivist, who said, “It’s hard to regulate what can and can’t be vaped because officials aren’t sure of what chemicals are in them.”

 

This statement is false! I can attest to this personally as I’ve been working in the vapor industry for the last four years; every single e-juice flavor we produce and its ingredients are on file and registered with the FDA. We are in their database, as is true for any other vapor company providing e-juice currently. Ms. Harvel concludes that everyone should stop vaping. However, as the video wraps up, Ben says, “I’ve never vaped e-juice at all. I don’t know why they chose to focus on that.”

 

Ben adds about Ms. Harvel’s doctored report, “They ran with the story the way they went; it was totally wrong. They shouldn’t have done it.” (Note: I was unable to find any other article or video mentioning what happened to Ben.) Hence, it seems poor Ben got the shaft from News Channel 7, and they could not be bothered to clarify the report or admit their mistakes.

The Media, Big Tobacco, and Money               

As wrong as what happened to Ben might be, he is not the first or the last to be misrepresented by the media. The mainstream media has a long history of stretching truths, reporting half-truths, spouting flat out lies, and so forth. I will give you two well-documented examples of this.

 

The first being a fabricated story coming from Dateline NBC in November of 1992. NBC had wanted to run a story on how unsafe the gas tanks of General Motors trucks were in a crash scenario and were prone to explode on a dime. NBC attempted multiple times to make one of these truck tanks explode with less than satisfying results. Disappointed, but not to give up so easily, NBC decided they would use a device attached to the bottom of the truck to set it aflame.

 

The firefighter who was present at the time blew the whistle to GM that the test was a fraud, and GM decided to do a little investigation of their own. Not without trouble from NBC, GM was able to recover the truck wreckage and discover that the tank did not crack as reported initially by NBC but that a cap from a different model truck was replaced on the tank, which then shot off during impact. After General Motors filed a lawsuit against NBC, they were forced to admit their wrongdoings.

 

The next story is about an article published by Rolling Stone Magazine in November of 2014 written by a woman named Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The title of the article was “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA.” The story Ms. Erdely wrote described a despicable tale of an alleged gang rape of a woman identified as “Jackie,” which took place on the University of Virginia campus by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as an initiation rite.

 

The entire story lacked real evidence and had many issues with it that raised some red flags. After Rolling Stone published the story, angry mobs of students vandalized the Phi Kappa Psi house, and fraternity members received death threats. As a result, many of them hired lawyers, and the UVA indefinitely suspended the chapter. 

 

Then, the University of Virginia and local police launched an investigation into the alleged rape and turned up many falsehoods. The frat party she was supposedly at never took place, the main attacker she named could not be identified and did not attend the school, and the fraternity in question had not been accepting new pledges then. When the university and police investigation exposed that the story had no factual evidence, the writer, Ms. Erdely, had to come clean finally.

 

She confessed that she had gone in search of a campus rape story to sell to Rolling Stone individually and that certain conditions determined her agreement not to fact check any element of the story. The result came to Phi Kappa Psi house suing Rolling Stone, who had to pay out a $3 million settlement. These are but two examples, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of more cases of the media lying to us.

 

I can bet that most of those lies are things most of us believe to be the truth. Because why wouldn’t we? The media is supposed to be the place we can trust for the facts, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Let’s talk a little bit about why that is.

 

Peter Vanderwicken for Harvard Business Review reports in the May-June 1995 issue on the analysis of Paul H. Weaver entitled, “News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works.” A little background on Paul Weaver; he’s a former political scientist at Harvard University, journalist at Fortune Magazine, and corporate communications executive at Ford Motor Company. The article is a good read with some fascinating information in it.

 

Still, according to Mr. Weaver, “The news media and the government are entwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, mythmaking, and self-interest. Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials need to appear to be responding to crises. Too often, the crises are not crises but joint fabrications. The two institutions have become so entangled in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively.” Pretty deep if you ask me. You’re probably wondering, ok, Roxanne, but where’s the proof of that?

 

Well, the article offers several examples. The first example is the 1980’s effort to eliminate the federal deficit. All avenues of media ran countless stories about the debate on the Gram-Rudman legislation, creating the drama and pushing the thought that deficit reduction was a matter of extreme importance, eventually succeeding in the passing of the legislation.

 

After the fact, the media consistently reported on how our government politicians were working tirelessly, putting out the effort to solve the deficit problem down in Washington when, in reality, spending increased with new programs being added, routine annual budgeting, and the like. Still, no news or stories reported what was happening, which was the deficit being increased.

 

The media is known to play on the emotions and feelings of the public; this is not a new tactic. The article goes on to say, “The news media and the government have created a charade that serves their interests but misleads the public. Officials oblige the media’s need for drama by fabricating crises and stage-managing their responses, thereby enhancing their prestige and power. Journalists dutifully report those fabrications. Both parties know the articles are self-aggrandizing manipulations and fail to inform the public about the more complex but boring issues of government policy and activity.”

 

This passage sounds eerily familiar when it comes to this whole attack on the vapor industry. The real crisis is that Big Tobacco is losing billions due to people quitting through using vapor, and Big Tobacco companies have deep political ties to both major parties. The government has control of the media. The difference is that they are not going to tell you that; instead, they will fabricate a crisis that works in their favor to push their agendas. What is being played out like a soap opera in the media in the case of vapor is a vaping health epidemic that our government is rushing in to solve in the form of trying to demonize the e-cigarette industry and tamp us out.

 

But how deep are Big Tobacco’s pockets when it comes to the government? According to Jessica Glenza’s 2017 article for The Guardian, their pockets seem deeper and more extensive than the ocean, especially with Trump in office. She quotes Senator Richard Blumenthal as saying, “Tobacco industry influence in Washington is pervasive, in many different ways. They have an active presence on the Hill, they frequently meet with administrative agencies, on hugely significant issues such as regulation of e-cigarettes, tobacco packaging, and warnings.” Surprise, surprise, but wait, there is more (Billy Mayes voice): I’m going to give you this in bullet point format, but you should read this full article as it’s super insightful.

 

  • “In the first quarter of 2017, tobacco companies and trade associations spent $4.7m lobbying federal officials. Altria, the company behind Marlboro, hired 17 lobbying firms. Reynolds, makers of the Camel brand, hired 13, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.”
  • “The Food and Drug Administration has twice delayed legal briefs to defend regulations of e-cigarettes, products cigarette makers say are the future.”
  • “Tobacco companies made 84% of their donations each cycle to Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Since 1990, $57m has been donated exclusively to Republicans, 74% of the industry’s total donations.”
  • “For Trump’s inaugural celebration, Reynolds American gave $1m. Altria Group gave $500,000. The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been fiercely pro-tobacco in recent years, gave $25,000.”
  • “Over his career, [Mike] Pence received $39,000 in donations from RJ Reynolds, a Reynolds American subsidiary, and more than $60,000 from the tobacco company-aligned National Association of Convenience Stores, both among his top donors.”
  • “In addition to his vote against the cigarette tax, [health secretary Tom] Price also voted against allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco, a vote that would have a large impact on e-cigarettes. Price now leads the department in charge of enforcing those regulations.”

 

And this is just scratching the surface. I can attest to the fact that Big Tobacco donates hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to BOTH parties, and that, indeed, it is all about money. Moreover, many of us are not sitting idly by while our industry is under attack; we are fighting back. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, we are playing in the big leagues, and our opponent is Big Tobacco.

Here, in the state of Nevada, our Political Action Committee is the Nevada Vaping Association, and in the country, the Vapor Technology Association. Our company, Red Rock Vapor LLC., is an active member of both associations, and we meet routinely to discuss current issues and state of affairs. These meetings always hit me hard because it is still this – we need money to play ball in the big leagues, and until we can gift donations in the realm of Big Tobacco, no one on Capitol Hill will even talk to us.

 

But fear not vapers because we have not given up and we will not. We all have a little, and together we have a little more, and these committees are in place to try and educate the politicians and to protect and defend this industry that we love and has helped us so much.

 

Therefore, I urge every vape shop in the state of Nevada to become a member of the Nevada Vaping Association, and every vape shop in the USA to become a member of the Vapor Technology Association. Your contributions go toward our ongoing effort to keep the vapor industry alive for the people who need it most.

 

Some Extra Food For Thought…

I came across an article that struck me as impressive. It comes from Roy Benaroch, M.D. for The Great Courses Daily website. Although he does not give reference and does not state which surveys or research he is referring to, he says, “A 2014 survey found that 6 out of 10 Americans admitted that over the last week, they only skimmed newspaper headlines. Most people never bothered to read the stories.”

 

As well as stating, “Researchers have found that 60 percent of posted links, including many that received comments and re-postings, had never, not once, been clicked on and opened. People are sharing headlines and posting comments about them, but most of the time, they haven’t read the actual stories.” Whether these are actual definitive numbers is unknown, but one would have to imagine that this is probably accurate on some level.

 

My final thought I will leave with you is never to be satisfied and always search for the truth for yourself. Read those articles before you share them or speak on them. Decide for yourself what are the facts, what is wholly someone’s opinions, or what are the same old-fashioned media fabrications. Be a critical thinker and a critical reader and formulate your very own conclusions. Read.

 

 

Works Cited

Bach, Laura. “STATES & LOCALITIES THAT HAVE RESTRICTED THE SALE OF FLAVORED TOBACCO PRODUCTS.” 2019. PDF File. https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/factsheets/0398.pdf

Benaroch, Roy. “Truth and Lies in Mass Media.” The Great Courses Daily, The Teaching Company, 10 May 2019, https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/truth-and-lies-in-mass-media/.

Camerillo, Ben, and 808 Vapes Vape Shop. “Vaping Lung Illness Patient Speaks Out.” YouTube, YouTube, Jan. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CdcyjbAteY.

Centers For, Disease Control and Prevention. “Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html.

Commissioner, Office of the. “Respiratory Illnesses Associated with Use of Vaping Products.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/lung-illnesses-associated-use-vaping-products.

Glenza, Jessica. “Tobacco Companies Tighten Hold on Washington under Trump.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 July 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/13/tobacco-industry-trump-administration-ties.

Howard, Jacqueline, and Chris Boyette. “Washington State Has Banned the Sale of Flavored Vaping Products.” CNN.com, CNN Cable News Network, 10 Oct. 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/10/health/flavored-e-cigarette-ban-washington-thursday-bn/index.html.

Howard, Jacqueline. “Washington State Orders Emergency Ban on Flavored Vape Products.” CNN, CNN Cable News Network, 27 Sept. 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/27/health/flavored-e-cigarette-ban-washington-state-bn/index.html.

“Nicotine without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction.” RCP London, Royal College of Physicians, Apr. 2016, https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/nicotine-without-smoke-tobacco-harm-reduction-0.

“States Target Vaping With Bans. In California, The Action Is Local.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 27 Sept. 2019, https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2019-09-27/as-states-target-vaping-with-bans-california-takes-local-action.

Stockton, Richard. “3 Notorious Cases Of Trusted Media Outlets Spreading Fake News.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 18 Dec. 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/media-lies.

Vanderwicken, Peter. “Why the News Is Not the Truth.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Publishing, 1 Aug. 2014, https://hbr.org/1995/05/why-the-news-is-not-the-truth.

“Youth and Tobacco Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Feb. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/index.htm.

 

Nevada Vaping Association Website: https://nevadavaping.org/

 

Vapor Technology Association Website: https://vaportechnology.org/

 

The views, opinions, and feelings expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or feelings of Red Rock Vapor LLC., and are the sole views, opinions, and feelings of the author expressing them.

 

Article Written & Researched by Roxanne Massimino – 10.25.2019

Roxanne has been vaping and off cigarettes for 4 years and has been with Red Rock Vapor LLC since 2015, stepping into the General Manager position in 2019. She is an English student at the College of Southern Nevada and has a passion for writing. Roxanne can be reached for comments, questions and concerns about this article or in general at roxanne@redrockvapor.com.

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