The Corner

Culture

Don’t Panic over the Mystery Vaping Disease — but Maybe Lay Off the Counterfeit Products

A man vapes outside a shop in East Liverpool, Ohio. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A lot of us on the right — including yours truly — have been quite enthusiastic about the potential of vaping to reduce smoking deaths without infringing on smokers’ personal freedom. The U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians estimates that vaping is, at most, only 5 percent as dangerous as smoking. As I wrote back in 2016, “this implies we could maintain our current level of safety even if 19 nonsmokers took up vaping for every smoker who switched (or would-be smoker who vaped instead).” The potential is enormous.

When it comes to new products, though, there is always a chance of unknown dangers — and recently there have been reports of a mysterious lung disease among vapers. Kaiser Health News has an excellent and thorough (if somewhat slanted) report today that ought to put this problem in focus.

As of August 22 there were nearly 200 reported cases of vaping-related illnesses from 22 states, and at least one death. These numbers aren’t really comparable to those for smoking, whose consequences normally come after decades of use and are counted much more thoroughly than this new problem is. But it’s at least worth pointing out that smoking is estimated to kill nearly half a million Americans each year, and that for every person who dies, 30 more get serious smoking-related illnesses. So far, then, the mystery lung disease is just a blip on the radar in terms of the overall problem we’re trying to address.

Further, while a lot remains to be learned about the illness, there are strong suggestions it’s caused by bad or counterfeit products, not by normal vaping. The cases cluster geographically, and in some states they have been found exclusively among those who vape cannabis products, not nicotine. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA director who launched a crackdown on vaping when studies showed teen use on the uptick, told KHN he suspects the problem is counterfeit pods, both because of the clustering and because the FDA inspects the facilities of legitimate manufacturers to ensure the products aren’t contaminated.

In terms of policy, it’s worth keeping an eye on this problem, figuring out what is causing it, and punishing anyone selling tainted vaping products. It’s also worth setting up a better system for keeping track of issues with vaping liquids and accessories. And of course, the FDA should keep in mind everything we learn about this illness as it continues to implement its new regulatory regime (however much I hate that regime). We should also keep studying the consequences of vaping, and especially how those consequences vary according to which products people use.

For the time being, though, this seems like a problem limited to small batches of bad products — not unlike the foodborne illnesses that kill several thousand Americans each year — rather than a reason to change course on vaping overall.

Most Popular

Film & TV

America’s Favorite Movie

For more than a decade, readers volunteering their ratings on the movie site IMDb have declared The Shawshank Redemption (1994) their favorite film of all time. (Number two is The Godfather). Unlike the unholy tablets that are the box office charts, which are strongly linked to marketing budgets and show a ... Read More
Film & TV

America’s Favorite Movie

For more than a decade, readers volunteering their ratings on the movie site IMDb have declared The Shawshank Redemption (1994) their favorite film of all time. (Number two is The Godfather). Unlike the unholy tablets that are the box office charts, which are strongly linked to marketing budgets and show a ... Read More
Media

The Media Owe Senator Tom Cotton an Apology

One of the biggest issues people have with the mainstream press these days is that some of its members are so insulated that they end up buying into and promoting false narratives without actually checking these narratives' veracity. That seems to be exactly what happened in mid February, when major outlets ... Read More
Media

The Media Owe Senator Tom Cotton an Apology

One of the biggest issues people have with the mainstream press these days is that some of its members are so insulated that they end up buying into and promoting false narratives without actually checking these narratives' veracity. That seems to be exactly what happened in mid February, when major outlets ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Welcome Back, Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are a miracle of modern technology. Cheap, light, convenient, and ubiquitous, they provide an elegant solution to a problem. If you recycle them, as most people do, and put your rubbish in them, that creates a net reduction in carbon emissions compared with buying the heavier, thicker ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Welcome Back, Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are a miracle of modern technology. Cheap, light, convenient, and ubiquitous, they provide an elegant solution to a problem. If you recycle them, as most people do, and put your rubbish in them, that creates a net reduction in carbon emissions compared with buying the heavier, thicker ... Read More
U.S.

Some Good News Going into the Weekend

It’s Friday -- although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast -- and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter ... Read More
U.S.

Some Good News Going into the Weekend

It’s Friday -- although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast -- and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter ... Read More

The Didactic Plague

There are two Christian concepts on my mind on this Palm Sunday. One is theodicy, the other is the sin of presumption. “Theodicy” means “the vindication of God,” referring to a seeming conundrum that has vexed Christian thinkers since the beginning: How can evil coexist with an all-good, all-loving, ... Read More

The Didactic Plague

There are two Christian concepts on my mind on this Palm Sunday. One is theodicy, the other is the sin of presumption. “Theodicy” means “the vindication of God,” referring to a seeming conundrum that has vexed Christian thinkers since the beginning: How can evil coexist with an all-good, all-loving, ... Read More