The Synthetic Nicotine Loophole Fueling a Return to Teenage Vaping

“Sometimes so many people smoke in the toilets that it’s hard to do anything about it,” Ms. Diman said, adding that she doesn’t smoke.

The FDA’s efforts to restrict teens’ access to flavored vapes have had little effect on Lizzie Burgess’. Ability to get them over the past four years in suburban Indianapolis. Within weeks of starting vaping at age 16, she says she became addicted. There has always been a gas station, an old friend, or a website selling e-cigarettes flavored with banana ice cream or a sour apple, she said.

At 19, she said, she smoked THC and used a device —

Now promoting tobacco-free nicotine — that contains as much nicotine as two packs of cigarettes every two to three days. She said she got sick with what started as a cold, which escalated into rapid breathing, almost gray lips, and a feeling of exhaustion. By the time she went to the emergency room, her oxygen saturation was 67, well below the normal range of 95 or higher. Ms. Burgess said she soon ended up in intensive care with a vaping-related lung injury. She has struggled to end her nicotine addiction and smokes up to two cigarettes a day. “I think the FDA should take all this off the market now,” Ms. Burgess said of flavored vapes. “I think it will be very, very difficult for them to spin all this. It’s so big, and there are so many companies now.”

Synthetic nicotine remains much more expensive than a tobacco-derived product,

Leading some industry experts to question whether the “synthetic” label on a device is accurate. The unregulated vaping market is currently an FDA concern, said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an industry trade group. He said the agency had exacerbated the problem by over-regulating a product used by millions of adults who see vaping as a safer alternative to smoking.“This country needs to learn some lessons from past bans that have failed miserably,” Mr. Conley said. “If you don’t fairly regulate a market that has a lot of demand from legal adults, you will be fueling gray and black markets where operators don’t care about checking IDs before selling.”

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