It is likely that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes — no great distinction — but nicotine damages adolescent brains, and researchers still have not established e-cigarettes’ risk profile. Harvard researchers just announced that they discovered a microbial toxin in some of the most popular vaping pods. A recent wave of catastrophic vaping-related lung damage appears to be related to products that contain substances besides nicotine. But the injuries highlight continuing questions about the safety of vaping products.
In September, President Trump indicated he was ready to take a much harder line and ban all vaping liquid flavors except tobacco. This would have preserved a narrow lane for adult smokers trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes while protecting young people who are not yet addicted. The adults could have obtained relatively safer vaping products in a flavor to which they were accustomed, while teens who dislike the tobacco taste would not have been tempted.
But, just as he has with gun reform and other topics, Mr. Trump flinched as soon as he encountered pushback, and the administration announced a different plan on Thursday. It proposes to keep both tobacco- and menthol-flavored pods on the market and permit vape shops to continue selling tank-based e-cigarette products in any flavor.
It will not take vape-pod producers long to develop “menthol”-flavored products that taste very similar to the soon-to-be banned mint products that children currently prefer. Teenagers seeking other flavors will also find their way to relatively unregulated tank-based vape fluids. These fluids refill larger e-cigarette devices that mostly appeal to adults — for now. Trump administration officials promise that they will strictly enforce rules against selling to minors and will not tolerate the development or marketing of vaping products that appeal to children. But given how far they have already retreated, it’s hard to feel confident they will stem the massive vaping trend already underway.
The Food and Drug Administration will face another test later this year, as e-cigarette purveyors face a court-imposed deadline to apply to the FDA for permission to continue selling their products. The FDA is supposed to bar the products’ sale unless they are compatible with its mission to protect public health. As regulators weigh applications, they must keep that mission in mind — not worry about avoiding “disruption.”