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What Do We Actually Know About Second-Hand Juul ‘Smoke’?

With some cities looking to ban the sale of e-cigs entirely, it’s time to take a closer look at what your mango-scented cloud is doing to the rest of us

On Tuesday, San Francisco officials proposed legislation aimed at banning the sale of e-cigarettes unless they’ve been approved by the FDA. The problem is, not one e-cigarette has so far been approved.

Generally speaking, the FDA is supposed to regulate new tobacco products before they can be sold in stores. In 2016, it was decided that e-cigarettes should also undergo this same review process. However, for some reason, e-cigarettes have largely been able to avoid any of this oversight. Such a lack of scrutiny by the FDA is something City Attorney Dennis Herrera adamantly pointed out during Tuesday’s press conference. “The FDA has simply failed to do its job in unprecedented fashion,” he exclaimed. “These are prudent steps to ensure that we know the health and safety implications of products being sold here.”

Herrera isn’t the first person to call out the FDA for slacking on its pre-market e-cigarette reviews, either. The American Lung Association recently released its 2019 State of Tobacco Control report, in which they sternly explain why they gave the FDA an “F” grade (an “F” grade!) when it comes to regulating tobacco products over the past few years:

“FDA has full authority over the manufacture, marketing and sale of tobacco products in the U.S. under a law passed by Congress in 2009 and through the 2016 ‘deeming’ rule. However, in many cases over the past two Administrations, the agency has failed to implement the law and use this comprehensive authority to put meaningful restrictions on tobacco products in place. This lack of action continued to earn the federal government an ‘F’ grade for FDA Regulation of Tobacco Products in the 2019 ‘State of Tobacco Control’ report.”

“One clear consequence of FDA’s inaction has been a steep rise in e-cigarette use among youth to ‘epidemic’ levels, with 20.8 percent of high school students using e-cigarettes in 2018 — a stunning increase from 11.7 percent in 2017. It has also led to the rise of JUUL, an e-cigarette that looks like a USB flash drive, which contains high amounts of nicotine, comes in several kid-friendly flavors and is particularly popular with youth. JUUL has claimed the largest share of the overall e-cigarette market in a very short time period and has inspired a number of other companies to create similar types of e-cigarettes.”

You probably noticed a lot of the above when everyone in your life became addicted to Juuling, something which we all already know is bad for us. In fact, as I concluded during my analysis of the ingredients in Juul pods, replacing cigarette smoking with Juuling isn’t doing your body that much of a favor. (If you need help quitting, I wrote about that, too — you’re welcome.)

But let’s get back to this new legislation. While it primarily hopes to tackle the massive problem of underage vaping, one secondary benefit might be that it also reduces the impact that secondhand vapor might have on the San Francisco community. Because despite what that person who Juuls next to you on the bus might tell you, secondhand vapor is indeed dangerous — at least, according to a small 2014 study, which found that vaping worsened indoor air quality by increasing the concentration of nicotine, particulate matter, PAHs and aluminum (compounds that have been linked to lung and cardiovascular disease and cancer). The American Lung Association was even forced to release a PSA warning parents about the dangers that secondhand vapor pose to their children in 2017.

So is it possible that this legislation — and the widespread FDA-bashing that it encouraged — will soon see Juulers legislated back to the same murky, shrinking corners as regular smokers? Only time, and perhaps a series of giant lawsuits, will tell.