Safety, Ethics and Vaping

October 19, 2019
Safety, Ethics and Vaping

Fruity flavors that sound like childhood candy favorites have lured many teens into vaping. Highly addictive nicotine vaping products have drawn in 3.6 million young users, many of whom find themselves hooked and unable to quit.

After a 2016 FDA ruling on the products, sales for Juul e-cigarettes, for instance, increased over 600%, and the trend of declining youth smoking was reversed.

In addition to long-term effects of vaping, some e-liquid flavors, like cinnamon, cotton candy, and bubble gum, are poisonous in high doses.  Recently, the CDC has linked 1299 lung injury cases and 26 deaths to vaping THC, the component in marijuana that delivers a high.  Twenty percent of the deaths were in users 18 to 20 years old.

Video Spotlight: Teens falling victim to the JUUL effect

This post is based on the LA Times article, The FDA tried to ban flavors years before the vaping outbreak. Top Obama officials rejected the plan, by Emily Baumgaertner, October 1, 2019; the USA Today article, Vaping-related lung injury cases jump to 1,299; deaths rise to 26, by Doug Stanglin, October 10, 2019; and the YouTube video, Teens falling victim to the JUUL effect, by UW Medicine, July 30, 2019. Image source: Olga Vasilyeva/Shutterstock

Discussion Questions:

1. What issues related to product and service design are related to the e-cigarette boom and the recent lung injuries and deaths?

Guidance: Just because a product is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical.  Companies as well as government regulating bodies in the external environment must make decisions about what products are appropriate to sell and where to draw the line.

Some observers believe that e-cigarette makers enticed young people to begin a nicotine habit by offering flavors like “cotton candy,” “gummy bear,” and “Skittles,” and that many new users thought that they were only inhaling water vapor.  Instead, users quickly became addicted to a product so high in nicotine that one e-cigarette delivers the same amount as 20 regular cigarettes.

When asked why they vape, 80 percent of young people in a national survey by the FDA and National Institute of Health chose the response of “It comes in flavors I like.”  While e-cigarettes may offer some benefits to people who already were addicted to cigarettes, the companies that make them have now created a steady stream of potentially life-time customers by making their products particularly attractive to young people.  This could have been largely prevented, had the FAA made it illegal to sell fruity flavors to minors back in 2016, rather than just allowing it to be an ethics call on the part of individual businesses.

2. What role or responsibility do producers of vaping products have in providing quality or safety for users?

Guidance: New lung injuries related to THC vaping have added another dimension to the debate.  Regular vaping of other substances is associated with greater risk of heart attacks, seizures, burns, and there is also the potential for users to eventually switch to cigarettes and experience all of the known consequences of those products.

Students may wish to discuss to what extent this should be the individual user’s choice, and to what extent the FDA should limit access, as well as whether the decision should vary based on user age.  Additional conversation can center around the extent, if any, to which businesses have a responsibility to test and report the potential ill-effects their products may have, and at what point a profit motive should be superseded by a concern for product quality or safety and societal health and well-being.


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