Smoke Alarm

Last Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the administration’s intention to remove all flavored “vaping” products from the market as part of an effort to stem use of the electronic cigarettes among underage Americans.

The battery-operated devices, essentially nicotine delivery systems, are marketed as a means for long-time smokers to lessen their exposure to certain harmful chemicals found in regular tobacco cigarettes, and even as a means to help them quit smoking.

But e-cigarettes contain an assortment of other noxious chemicals as well and, over the past months, an alarming number of cases of serious illness have been linked to use of the devices.

Hundreds of cases of mysterious, vaping-related lung ailments have been reported in more than 36 states, and more than six vaping-related deaths have been reported across the U.S.

Although makers of the devices claim that they do not market them to youths and have taken at least superficial steps to curb their marketing to children, the offering of cartridges with names like “unicorn milk,” “bubble gum” and “gummy bear,” as Representative Dick Durban (D-Ill.) recently pointed out, “aren’t aimed at a 50-year-old chain smoker trying to quit cigarettes.”

In its announcement, in fact, HHS noted that 8 million adults and 5 million children are currently vaping, that over a quarter of high school students currently use e-cigarettes and that the “overwhelming majority” of the young people using the devices choose fruit or mint-flavored cartridges.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar pledged that “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”

According to the HHS, the Food and Drug Administration is currently making plans to remove all flavored vaping products from the market. Manufacturers will then have the option of reapplying for FDA approval, but will need to demonstrate that the health benefits, like helping cigarette smokers quit, outweigh the risks of having the product back on the market. That, especially in the wake of the reported illnesses and deaths that have been tied to vaping, will likely be, as it should be, an uphill battle.

Kudos to the administration for addressing at least part of the problem, the industry’s subtle “outreach” to young people.

But the larger problem of companies seeking to maintain or create addicts to harmful substances, proven causes of heart disease, lung cancer and other serious ailments, whether delivered by e-cigarettes or “traditional” tobacco products, remains. And, while government may not be able to curb such commercial ventures, individuals need to recognize the dangers of vaping and smoking, and order their lives accordingly.

The percentage of American smokers has been dropping, but there are still more than 30 million users of tobacco in the U.S. today. According to the American Lung Association, tobacco use is highest among Native Americans, Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans.

But neither is it unheard of, unfortunately, in our own Torah-observant Jewish community.

The recent reports of illness and deaths associated with vaping indicates that contrary to what many assumed, this practice is far from safe.

Smokers and vapers would do well to ask their own doctor about how this habit affects their physical well-being, and then consult their own posek as to whether it is halachically permissible for them to engage in this behavior.

While those who are addicted to tobacco or nicotine must be viewed with sympathy and understanding, their addiction harms not only themselves but also their families. Their habit takes a toll on their productivity and, chalilah, longevity. It affects their finances — a half-pack-a-day habit can strain the family budget to the tune of a couple thousand dollars a year. And not only does smoking set a bad example for younger family members, second-hand smoke medically endangers them.

The notion that smoking and vaping are acceptable behaviors is a pernicious one. And we owe it to our children ­— and to ourselves — to explode it.