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Researchers at URMC applaud federal vape ban, hope for further restrictions

The federal Food and Drug Administration is banning certain types of e-cigarettes.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is banning certain types of e-cigarettes.

As the federal Food and Drug Administration announced an impending ban on certain types of e-cigarettes, researchers at the University of Rochester applauded the move, but they also said it should only be the start of more regulations.

“It’s a great decision,” said Irfan Rahman, who runs a lab at URMC that studies the liquids used in e-cigarettes to figure out exactly what they contain.

“It should be a gateway to banning other products,” he continued.

The ban will cover only certain types of e-cigarettes. Starting next month, companies will not be allowed to sell flavored vaping cartridges that contain nicotine -- with exceptions for tobacco and menthol flavors.

The rules also carve out an exception for larger “open-tank” e-cigarettes where customers fill the reservoirs with vaping liquid themselves.

The FDA, which funds much of Rahman’s research, said the ban is targeting the vaping products most often used by teenagers and young adults. Rahman agreed, noting that the ban covers the flavors he encounters regularly in his analysis of the substances young people are vaping, such as bubble gum, candy or mango. “There are so many of them,” he said.

“They look like they are fruit juices, but they are not. They are chemicals which look they are safe, but they are not safe.”

Deborah Ossip, who directs URMC’s Smoking Research Program, said that while she supports the ban, there’s a risk that young people will lack the resources they need to safely and permanently stop using products they’re now addicted to.

Ossip said she visits schools to discuss vaping with students, parents and educators. She said she hears often that teens have become dependent on the products without even realizing it. “They can’t put them down anymore,” Ossip said. “I am concerned about what will happen next, and I hope this is just a first step.”

Both Ossip and Rahman said they expect the FDA’s ban to reduce access to e-cigarettes for young people, but they also said scientific evidence points to a need for further restrictions.

In its explanation of the ban, the FDA said it tried to strike a balance between “restricting youth access” to e-cigarettes and “maintaining availability of potentially less harmful options for current and former adult smokers.”

Vaping advocates have expressed appreciation to regulators for exempting some products from the ban.

But Ossip took issue with the FDA’s framing. “E-cigarettes are not safe,” she said. “And it’s not really even fair to say they’re safer than combustible cigarettes.”

“If someone’s saying, ‘OK, should I jump out of the 10th-story window, or the fifth-story window,’ you know, you’d say, ‘Well, it’s less harmful to jump out of a lower window than a higher window,’ ” Ossip said, “but you would not -- no clinician is going to recommend that.”

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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