The COVID-19 pandemic represents an all-new and significant challenge to the smoking and vaping community, both personally and professionally. While the FDA is integral in the fight against the coronavirus, using science and innovative approaches to take a broad range of actions to advance the nation’s response. The US Food and Drug Administration has backtracked on its earlier allegation on vaping and the coronavirus.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, has modified its stand on the previous statement regarding Covid-19 and vaping. They stated that there is an unknown effect on the risk of the new coronavirus to the people while warning that smoking can create worse outcomes. Michael Felberbaum, an FDA spokesman, in response to questions asked through an email sent on Friday from Bloomberg mentioned, e-cigarette use might expose the lungs to toxic chemicals, but whether those exposures raise the risk of Covid-19 is still not known. Individuals with underlying health concerns, such as lung or heart problems, may have a high risk of severe complications from coronavirus, and this includes people who smoke and/or vape tobacco or nicotine-infused products.
Even the description of the risks from cigarettes is also altered from its previous statements, which was said by the FDA spokeswoman Alison Hunt that cigarette smoking causes heart and lung diseases, suppresses the immune system, and increases the risk of respiratory infections. And now they are saying that people who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk from Covid-19, and may have worse outcomes from Covid-19. This band new statement comes as the disease torments young people in some countries at surprising rates, as the initial data of China is out, some health experts speculate as to whether vaping could play a role or not.
Several other US agencies have already issued mixed warnings on both vaping and smoking. Dr. Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has recently warned in her blog post that the coronavirus could be a severe threat to those people who vape and smoke tobacco or marijuana.
The COVID-19 crisis presents a new challenge for the smoking and vaping industry, which for years has faced higher taxes and lawsuits and because of the links between smoking and higher risks of lung diseases. E-cigarette manufacturing company Juul Labs Inc. was already under fire for allegedly marketing its product to teenagers. Due to this reason, an amended complaint was filed in San Francisco district court this month, including claims that vapers suffer a more elevated risk of the severe coronavirus complications.
Long before the outbreak of the coronavirus, the vaping industry had already drawn inspection and restraints from federal and state governments among a series of illnesses and deaths, which were linked to faulty cannabis goods.
The verdict came after weeks of outrage from the tobacco control community. They were upset that the FDA stated vapers with underlying health infirmities were at a high risk of intensifying complications if they contracted the COVID-19. Gregory Conley, who is the president of the American Vaping Association, told VICE that the FDA earns no praise for finally landing at the right public stand, as there is no evidence linking the use of nicotine vaping to COVID-19 infection or making people vulnerable. He also accused the FDA of being wholly irresponsible to add fuel to the fire several weeks ago by commenting on a subject they now confront they know nothing about.
Previously on 31 March, Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, joined a group of scientists and policy experts for sending a letter to the FDA criticizing their previous statement on vaping and the coronavirus. Among the signatories, which also included professors from New York University, the University of Michigan and Harvard had drafted the note to respond to the earlier Bloomberg News story, titled “Vaping Could Compound Health Risks Tied to Virus, FDA Says.” The group argued that the news headline did not make it clear whether the agency was stating that vaping could increase health risks tied to COVID-19 for those people who already have underlying health conditions. They did not imply it clearly whether vaping itself caused all the claimed outcomes. All the authors of the letter stated that such kind of underlying health conditions was likely caused by a lifetime of smoking and that the FDA must be careful in providing advice to ex-smokers who may have shifted to vaping in order to ditch traditional cigarettes. The authors regard vaping as an effective harm-reduction tool and a safer alternative to conventional cigarette smoking.
The primary two questions asked by the authors in the letter were: On what grounds is FDA confident that it is right to dissuade people with underlying smoking-related conditions from vaping at this time, given the possible alternative for many is to return to traditional smoking? And the second asks, “Where is the evidence-based reasoning that warning adult smokers against vaping is relevant for the protection of public health at any time, but preferably during this COVID-19 crisis?
Confusion had also mounted when some people died from vaping-linked illnesses (EVALI); that time also the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took months to acknowledge. That time they stated that almost all of the illnesses and fatalities could be because of tainted and illicit THC cartridges and the not legal nicotine-based vape liquids. But the accusation that it could be any vape device, whether it be a nicotine-based or THC based, was already out in the world, causing a significant setback to the vaping industry and community, according to harm-reduction agencies and pro-vaping activists.
Matt Culley, who is a board member for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association and a famous online vaping advocate, has said that he is glad the FDA has decided to take back their previous statement. Unlike many others in public health who are using this pandemic to promote their unscientific war on vaping. He also admitted that because of the EVALI misinformation of last year, enough damage had already been done, and this will hurt tobacco harm reduction efforts in the long run.
Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the US, appeared on NBC’s Today Show, which was aired on March 23, postulated without any evidence that vaping could be the reason for young people falling to higher risk from COVID-19 than previously thought. He said there are theories that it could be because we have a higher proportion of people in the US and also in Italy who vape.
Some health experts have speculated that vaping is causing younger patients in the US hospitalized with Covid-19 at a higher rate than expected. The FDA under President Donald Trump initially took a mostly hands-off approach to regulate e-cigarettes but began to change its course back in 2018 because of a rise in vape use among youth. Earlier, even after multiple delays, e-cigarette makers had the time until May to apply to the FDA for clearance to continue the marketing of their products, and none received FDA approval to market as less risky than smoking.
Recently Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also went far to issue an advisory warning that vaping could possibly worsen the spread of coronavirus. On the contrary, last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed that smokers or vapers are not more vulnerable to the virus than any other person. And thankfully, the FDA certainly appears to be taking this information seriously as there is currently no evidence from anywhere in the globe showing vapers to be at higher risk for COVID-19.
The Science Media Research Center also recently released statements from public health experts to help reporters understand what they know about smoking, vaping, and COVID-19. Dr. Caitlin Notley stated that there is no evidence which links vaping to cause an increased risk of infection or progression of vaping to severe conditions of COVID-19. She also added that since switching from smoking to vaping improves cardiovascular and respiratory health, smokers who shifted might be expected to have a better prediction if infected by the virus.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids (CTFK) and Parents Against Vaping Electronic Cigarettes (PAVE) has consistently promoted stories linking vaping and the coronavirus. Such as on April 15, and they even promoted a campaign to tell the White House that vape shops are not essential businesses for public consideration.
In these stressful times, anti-vaping groups must stick to the proven facts and stop spreading misinformation and fear concerning a product that is already saving millions of lives both in the US and across the world. Stopping underage people from vaping is undoubtedly a valid goal. Still, it’s not an excuse for misleading the mass in ways that could prevent smokers from switching to a dramatically safer product. However, the available evidence indicates precisely the opposite that if they had worked to convince more smokers to shift to e-vaping or other alternatives, there might be fewer coronavirus-related deaths today.
Dr. Michael Siegel, who is a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health also explained that how it is true that if more public health activists would have embraced e-cigarettes instead of opposing them and more smokers had been encouraged to switch, there would be less mortality from COVID-19 today. Approximately 2.5 million smokers have already shifted from traditional cigarettes to vaping and other similar tools. Dr. Siegel has spent a significant amount of his career working to reduce smoking and do not favor tobacco at all. He also explained his concern about how people need to understand that smoking is an addictive behavior, and it is not just the nicotine, It is the psychology as well. In the times of this pandemic, when people are already going through so much stress, asking all these people to quit suddenly will make them more vulnerable.
Dr. Sally Satel, who is a visiting professor at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, also agrees that there is no reliable evidence that proves vaping causes interstitial lung disease or fibrous scarring to people. As per the data, hundreds of thousands of former smokers have been vaping for the past ten years to date without any evidence of significant injury to their lungs. According to her, over the long term, it must be said that vaping might cause impairment in lung function though admittedly less harm than if vapers continued to smoke. Even the supporters of vaping restriction groups acknowledge that there is little research involving the novel COVID-19.
US Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, earlier in April’20 sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to clear the market of e-cigarettes for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the health officials have pointed to vaping trends in the US as a possible culprit, the US organizations have been left searching for answers. Whereas the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which is the marijuana advocacy group, has also advised marijuana users to avoid ingesting combustible smoke if possible, suggesting the use of alternative cannabis delivery methods instead. Amidst all this chaos, vaping companies are left with four additional months to submit their products for government review as the COVID-19 pandemic had caused delays for the companies and FDA staff. The FDA announced that the federal court accepted the request to push back the May 12 deadline to submit vaping product applications till September 9, 2020.
The review is part of the FDA’s yearslong effort to regulate the multibillion-dollar vaping industry, which includes thousands of e-cigarette devices and flavored solutions. E-cigarettes first appeared in the U.S. more than a decade ago and have grown in popularity with minimal federal regulation. FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement that e-cigarette companies had reported problems completing their research because of travel restrictions and limited laboratory access. Dr. Hahn also explained that many FDA staff who would have reviewed the applications are assisting with the pandemic response.