In 2019, 55 people in the United States lost their lives because of vaping. The American media named this epidemic ‘the vaping crisis‘ and news outlets have been covering it nonstop since August, 2019. But how come that you never hear about a vaping crisis in Europe? Why aren’t news outlets reporting about Europeans dying because of vaping?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that all the victims showed symptoms characteristic of e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury (EVALI), and, thus, a new medical condition was born.
To date, there have been more than 2,500 cases of EVALI hospitalised in the U.S. However, this lung disease doesn’t seem to affect Europeans. Let’s see why.
Why vaping led to a crisis in America
The American media started talking about a vaping-related illness in August of 2019. At the time, the CDC said it was investigating 94 cases that were possibly related to a severe lung illness that was associated with vaping, primarily among young people.
Even though people have been vaping in the U.S. for years, this development caused concern among people and alarmed them, especially parents. Now, to truly understand why a vaping-related illness would cause so much concern among parents, you need to read some statistics.
A survey revised in December, 2019, showed that, in the U.S., more than 40 percent of teenagers vaped by the time they graduated high school. And that’s not all. Younger children are vaping as well. The same survey showed that more than 20 percent of eighth-graders vaped in 2019. So more than one in five students aged 13 or 14 were vaping last year.
But, the thing is, American parents have protested against teen e-cigarette use even before the vaping crisis. They formed organisations and petitioned school districts and the government to ban vaping. The parents filed lawsuits against e-cigarette producers like Juul, claiming the companies are intentionally targeting children, and so on. They wanted their children to stop vaping.
And then, on top of this already tense background, people started to get sick from vaping. At first, there were only a few cases, most of them in Wisconsin. Then, more cases started to show up all over the United States. The media covered the story nonstop, the parents raged and more than 2,500 people ended up in hospitals.
The vaping crisis also had political repercussions. President Trump planned to ban e-cigarettes in September, reversed his plan in November and then announced a nationwide ban on most flavoured e-cigarettes on the 2nd of January, 2020.
What caused the vaping crisis in the U.S.
Even though it’s been very difficult for the public health investigation to gather and test relevant samples from all the cases involved in the vaping crisis, the general consensus is that the worst cases were caused by illegal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) vape cartridges.
These THC cartridges contained vitamin E acetate, an additive that’s commonly used as a vitamin supplement and in beauty products. But, even though vitamin E acetate can boost your wellbeing as a supplement, it can interfere with your normal lung function when inhaled.
And, the thing is, authorities found vitamin E acetate in more than 152 different THC vape cartridges during their investigation. They found these cartridges all over the U.S., and some of them were apparently produced by well-known brands.
But, when they inspected the cartridges closely, the authorities discovered that vapers were unknowingly buying counterfeit products of unknown origin. The most common counterfeit cartridges were labeled as Dank vapes (56 percent), TKO (15 percent), Smart Cart (13 percent) and Rove (12 percent).
Why the vaping crisis didn’t affect Europe
When it comes to vaping, Europe and the United States are worlds apart. A survey conducted in June of 2019 in the UK shows that only 4.9 percent of 11 to 18-year-olds vape, with only 1.6 percent of them using vapes more than once a week. You might be wondering why European teenagers are not big fans of vaping.
Well, there are several differences between the European and the American market. In Europe, e-cigarettes started off as devices that helped people quit smoking regular, combustible cigarettes. And many Europeans still use them as such. A survey showed that 33 percent of adults vape to stop smoking and 11.5 percent are ex-smokers who traded combustible cigarettes for vapes.
Furthermore, you also need to consider legislative differences. Vaping devices and vape cartridges are strictly regulated in the EU. The vape cartridges you can buy in the EU often contain less nicotine (max 20 mg/ml) than those in the U.S (max 59 mg/ml). The 5 percent nicotine Juul pod contains the same amount of nicotine you would find in two packs of cigarettes, which would make it illegal in the EU.
Most European countries treat vaping as smoking, so you’re not allowed to vape in closed public spaces, you can’t buy them if you’re under 18 and vape shops are not allowed to advertise their products outdoors.
In addition, some European countries have stricter rules for vaping or plan on implementing some. Finland banned all vape liquid flavours except tobacco. Estonia banned flavoured vaping liquids and all e-liquids that contained stimulants such as taurine and caffeine.
Sweden and other European governments threatened to ban flavoured vape liquids if young people start using them. Russia and Switzerland, two of the ‘European’ countries that currently treat e-cigarettes as regular products, plan to bring their regulations in line with the other European countries.
And that’s not all. Some American states have legalised THC vape cartridges, whereas THC is still illegal in most of Europe. Now, since the European authorities are on the lookout for THC products, it might be more difficult for counterfeiters to sell their products to unsuspecting vapers.
The future effects of the vaping crisis in Europe
Europe was not affected by the vaping crisis, but the European vaping market will be influenced by it. As the U.S. struggles to keep vape pens away from teenagers and to draft laws that will prevent other public health problems, European countries will surely revise their own legislation accordingly.