As FDA sounds alarm over e-cigarettes, some come to their defense

Written by Anna Tran/WITF News Intern | Sep 28, 2018 1:39 PM

Quinton Tran, of Lancaster County, exhales vapor at his kitchen table. (Photo: Rachel McDevitt/WITF)


(Lititz) - The federal Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters and fines to five major manufacturers and more than 1,300 retailers who have illegally sold e-cigarette products to minors.   

It recently announced steps to address what the agency calls an epidemic of e-cigarette use by young people.   

While the FDA is voicing concern over teenagers and children using them, some adults claim the product has helped them quit smoking. Some have even found a home in the vaping sub-culture.

Quinton Tran, 21, used to smoke two packs of Newport cigarettes a day. Today, you'll see him taking a drag from what looks like a long flat USB stick and blowing out a thick white cloud, not of smoke, but of vapor.  

"I've not legit touched a cigarette in forever," Tran said. 

There are many names for vapes or e-cigarettes, but they all do the same thing: turning a liquid chemical mixture of flavoring and nicotine into an aerosol. 

Tran has used vape for the past five years and along the way has used it to quit smoking. His friend introduced vape to Tran and other guys he hung out with, when Tran was 16.  They all ended up buying and upgrading their own vapes the more they used.  

"After a while I went full vaping and [since then] that's all I've ever been. Now, I can actually run upstairs, I can actually play ball, I can skate, I can do all that and not have shortness of breath or anything like that," said Tran. 

Not only has trading cigarettes for vape made Tran feel healthier, it also gave him a new hobby, community of friends, and jobs at vape shops. 


Tran practices tricking--making shapes with exhaled vapor--at his home in Lititz, Lancaster County. (Photo: Anna Tran/WITF News Intern)

One day he was scrolling through Instagram and saw someone tricking, or using the thick vapor to form shapes in the air. In high school at the time, Tran thought he'd give it a try, so he practiced until his tricks were like the ones he saw. 

The tricks are as intricate as forming a ghostly jellyfish to simple rings. Whenever he learned a trick, he'd film it and post it on his personal Instagram account, which has gained over 3,000 followers.   

Peers and social media are where some people, especially teens and kids, are exposed to vape, according to Dr. Jeremy Kees, marketing professor from Vilanova University.

"A public policy and public health perspective is that they're perceived as, you know, trendy or cool for youth populations," Kees said.

Kees said he thinks the advertisement of e-cigarettes has been effective for helping smokers switch over, but it has unintended consequences for attracting teens and kids. 

There's a stark difference when comparing e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes.

"We actually estimated that they were about 95% less harmful," said Dr. Johnathan Foulds from Penn Medicine, who has been studying nicotine and tobacco for 25 years. 

In comparison, Foulds said current research shows much less harmful consequences of e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes. Cigarette smoke contains around 7,000 measurable chemicals, many of which are known carcinogens. E-cigarette aerosols measure only ten to 15. 

Vape is not a cure, but it is a way to help smokers leave cigarettes behind.

Foulds said there are still many unknown risks that need to be studied and tested.

"It's impossible when nobody has yet done any kind of a comprehensive study on what [are] the range of potential harms and benefits, especially over a period of time with long term use," said Foulds.    

Despite potential risks, people continue to vape. It's a highly social business and activity, so vapers can naturally form into a community. For those in the business, money can be made. Vapers will get to know each other through social media, video chats, and meet ups.  

"Vape has really been helping us and there's no reason for us go back to cigarettes and, like, hurt our own bodies," Tran said. 

He said he doesn't want to go back to the person he was before he started vaping and he has a dream to open his own vape shop one day.  He's waiting for the right time and place to set up his own shop. When he does, he said he'll be excited to help people out as much as he can.

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