People are Vaping Caffeine—But Why?

For better or for worse, vaping has become all the rage lately — not only is an entire generation of young people growing up with nicotine addictions thanks to the success of companies like Juul, but people are also vaping marijuana in record numbers as a result of the proliferation of THC cartridges, which are distributed both in the states where marijuana has been legalized and on the black market where it has not. Seeking to capitalize on this trend, various companies have introduced products that allow users to vape a variety of substances, including vitamin blends and melatonin. Though the long-term effects of vaping various substances is currently poorly-understood, companies are advertising products that allow users to vape some common, legal drugs, like caffeine. Eagle Energy, for instance, sells a vape pen that delivers caffeine directly into the lungs, causing the drug to reach the bloodstream within minutes, much faster than the usual routes of administration like coffee and tea.

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Caffeine is widely considered to be one of the safest drugs available, with 90 percent of Americans consuming the stimulant in some form. Caffeine is known for enhancing alertness and preventing tiredness, and while most side effects are minor and uncommon, it can be dangerous in very high doses. While Eagle Energy advertises its product as providing “natural, plant-based energy,” it’s important to keep in mind that caffeine is still technically classified as a drug, even though it is derived from natural ingredients, and the extremely rapid route of administration caused by vaping may lead users to experience the effects of the caffeine more rapidly than intended.

That being said, Eagle Energy goes to great lengths to convince potential customers that its product is safe. On the FAQ page of the company’s website, representatives from Eagle Energy claim that their product is not harmful, especially relative to nicotine vape pens, as the plant-based ingredients are vaporized at a lower temperature than nicotine is and as such the vapor is gentler on the lungs. Eagle Energy also claims that as their product delivers caffeine via vapor, the effects of caffeine are felt in five minutes and last for about an hour, whereas ingesting caffeine via energy drinks takes a half hour for the effects to be felt, and the effects last for five hours or more. As such, Eagle Energy argues that inhaling caffeine rather than ingesting it allows for more precise control of how much users are consuming.

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Experts, however, worry that the rising popularity of vape devices for vitamins, melatonin, and caffeine may draw people to start vaping nicotine. While the CDC has linked the recent outbreaks of lung illnesses with vitamin E acetate, a compound found in illicit THC cartridges, experts warn that more research needs to be done to determine what the long-term effects of vaping are, and as such they cannot as-of-yet be considered with certainty to be completely safe. Experts also warn that the stimulating effects of vape products may be a placebo, as caffeine vape pens may not deliver enough caffeine to cause a stimulating effect.

For these reasons and more, it’s likely best to just stick with tea or coffee to get your caffeine fix, at least until more is known about vaping caffeine and what the research says the effects of doing so are.

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Researchers at Yale use Virtual Reality to Fight Teen Vaping

The phenomenon of teen vaping has certainly drawn a tremendous amount of concern this year, as a record number of teens report using vaping products and public health officials worry that a generation of kids will grow up to suffer from lifelong nicotine addictions due to the explosion in popularity of e-cigarette brands like Juul. Regrettably, while much of the work that’s been done to discourage young people from smoking cigarettes has been successful, teens are developing nicotine addictions nonetheless due to the marketing success of e-cigarette companies, which have been found to deliberately market tobacco products to young people and non-smokers. While vaping is widely considered to be healthier than other forms of tobacco consumption, it carries with it its own set of health risks, as the long-term effects of consuming nicotine via vapor are as-of-yet unknown and a series of vaping-relating hospitalizations earlier this year demonstrated that some vape products can be dangerous and even deadly.

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Dissuading young people from vaping is a difficult task for a number of reasons. For one, nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs that exists, and vaping products allow users to easily consume very large amounts of nicotine relative to smoking cigarettes or other methods of tobacco use. Additionally, as their brains are still developing, teenagers have difficulty assessing risk and making smart long-term decisions for the future, making it harder for them to appreciate the dangerous impact vaping could have on their lives. Teenagers are also notorious for their resistance to authority, and can have a natural inclination to reject messages from authority figures, instead taking cues from their peers in order to fit in with their social environment. Many young people believe vaping to be safer than other forms of nicotine addiction, and while this could be true, such a belief can cloud a person’s judgment when considering whether to start vaping. As such, researchers and doctors must come up with novel solutions for persuading children and teenagers not to engage in dangerous behaviors like vaping.

Like vaping, virtual reality is a new technology that has taken off in recent years

One such solution was imagined at Yale University, where researchers developed a virtual reality video game with the intent of discouraging vaping among teenagers. Like vaping, virtual reality is a new technology that has taken off in recent years, as display technology and advancements in computer graphics have made a product which for decades has been confined to science-fiction stories a reality. The game is called “Invite Only,” and puts players in the role of a student in a high school environment as they engage in scenarios such as being offered a vape pen at school or at a party and encouraging a friend to quit vaping. In addition to its educational value, the game is meant to be fun, engaging players with various activities and mini-games.

Though the project was developed at Yale, it was funded by Oculus, a virtual reality technology company owned by Facebook, and was created in collaboration with PreviewLabs Inc., a New Haven-based game developer. The game is the subject of an ongoing experiment, involving 300 students, designed to assess whether virtual reality technology holds promise as an educational and public health tool. The educational aspect of game-play involves players choosing from a number of dialogue options when engaging in conversations with in-game characters, which tests their knowledge about the effects of vaping products and the availability of resources to help people who want to quit. For instance, the game teaches players that they can text the word “quit” to 47848 for information about vaping-cessation resources, and that they should consult with a trusted adult, such as a parent or doctor, for help with their nicotine addictions.

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In the past, similar programs that leverage gaming to send an anti-drug-use message have been developed, with varying success. But the researchers hope that virtual reality will do a better job by immersing children and teenagers in a virtual environment that helps them imagine how drug use can impact their own lives as well as the lives of their peers, particularly in a world that is densely saturated with tablets and smartphones, which compete for young people’s attention. While the cost of virtual reality has decreased dramatically in recent years, the price of a virtual reality headset can still impose a burden on some, as the Oculus Go headset for which “Invite Only” was developed costs $150 or more. However, if schools are willing to invest in virtual reality technology, researchers hope that this platform can be leveraged not only to dissuade kids from vaping, but for other educational opportunities as well. The Yale researchers expect to have final results from the experiment by next year.


FDA Failed to Act on E-Cigarette Regulations

The F.D.A. is a longstanding American institution which is trusted to ensure that the products available to the American consumer are safe and effective. But the recent emergence of more than a thousand lung illnesses related to e-cigarette and vape pen use has raised questions about the organization’s effectiveness in ensuring the safety of the new category of products. While e-cigarettes have been around for more than ten years, they have long been presumed to be safe despite a lack of thorough scientific research, and in recent months this presumption of safety has been called into question. In response to the outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, some of which have been deadly, journalists have conducted interviews with current and former government officials and public health experts to reveal a myriad number of factors, from lobbying to fears of political ramifications to excessive bureaucracy, that paralyzed the F.D.A. and enabled the beginning of what may very well become a long-lasting public health crisis.

Though the general public has only recently come to understand the serious health complications posed by vaping, public health officials have warned of this risk as early as 2013, with limited success. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, former director of the F.D.A., issued a public warning that year about the rise of vaping, the fact that potential health issues were as-of-then unknown, and in particular the risk of developing nicotine addiction vaping posed to adolescents. The F.D.A., however, was unable to regulate the burgeoning industry, as two e-cigarette companies successfully sued the F.D.A for treating the devices as drugs rather than as tobacco products, which are subject to less stringent regulations. At the time, the Obama administration was more focused on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act than on other regulations, and in Obama’s last year in office, his administration rejected an F.D.A. proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes, amidst intense lobbying from the industry.

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President Trump’s director of the F.D.A., Dr. Scott Gottleib, who had previously served on the board of a chain of vaping lounges, granted a four-year extension to e-cigarette companies before they had to prove that the public benefits of their products outweigh their risks, creating an opportunity for companies like Juul to flourish. Dr. Frieden described this extension as “public health malpractice,” as the addictive potential of nicotine and e-cigarettes’ appeal to young people was by then already well-known. Unlike most public health experts, Dr. Gottleib saw e-cigarettes as having potential to become valuable smoking cessation tools, rather than as a gateway to nicotine addiction and other tobacco products. And when it comes to vaping T.H.C., the active ingredient in marijuana, the F.D.A. is virtually silent, as the drug is still illegal at a federal level, and the rise in popularity of this method for getting high has been rapid.

In the aftermath of the spate of vaping-related illnesses, the F.D.A. has finally announced an intention to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but faces an uphill battle in doing so, as the industry vehemently opposes this sort of regulation. However, a federal judge recently overturned Dr. Gottleib’s four-year extension, meaning e-cigarette companies will have to demonstrate the public benefit of their products sooner than they previously thought. Though e-cigarette companies claim their products offer a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, the continuing rise of e-cigarette use among teenagers threatens to undermine this argument, as regulators are likely to believe the risk of developing deadly lung illnesses outweighs the benefits of the technology as a smoking-cessation tool. But for now, e-cigarettes remain on the market, in most states largely unregulated, even as they continue to pose a serious risk to health and life, which is sure to get worse as time goes on unless action is taken.

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Health Scares Spell Trouble for Vaping Industry

Recently, a string of vaping-related hospitalizations made headlines and led to growing concerns about the safety of e-cigarettes marketed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes and other tobacco products. In the aftermath of this news, a number of states have moved to ban flavored vaping products, and the federal government even contemplated the idea of banning all flavors of vapor except tobacco nationwide. This sudden spike in concern has led to problems for the vaping industry, as blame is being placed squarely on the manufacturers of nicotine-containing products for the public health epidemic, and as the growing popularity of vaping among teenagers and young people threatens to undo the work of several decades of public campaigns aimed at curbing nicotine addiction.

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Juul, a brand which has become synonymous with vaping as it controls roughly 70% of the e-cigarette market, recently saw a change of leadership as it replaced its CEO with a former tobacco executive. A sudden change in leadership is never a good sign for a company, particularly one as large as Juul, and this news comes amidst other troubling developments for the company. Recently, the F.D.A. claimed that Juul broke the law by implying that e-cigarettes were safer than traditional cigarettes despite the lack of scientific evidence concerning the long-term health effects of using the products. Even more disconcertingly, the F.D.A found that Juul was marketing their products to teenagers in high schools as part of a campaign ostensibly targeted at reducing tobacco use by young people. Juul has said that it intends on fully cooperating with the F.D.A.’s regulations, and has announced it will not fight a proposed ban on flavored nicotine cartridges. Next year, e-cigarettes are scheduled to be banned in San Francisco, and Juul is considering whether or not they should abandon a ballot initiative to overturn the ban.

In order to stay on the market in the United States, Juul and other similar companies have to be able to prove that their products promote public health more than they harm it, which is growing increasingly difficult as the news reports of vaping-related hospitalizations and an epidemic of nicotine addiction in young people. While initially envisioned as a tool to help people quit smoking, vaping has instead become a fashionable trend, and many who are addicted to nicotine have no history of smoking cigarettes. The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes has been explosive, and while F.D.A. regulations concerning the sale of nicotine products have long been in effect, regulatory bodies have yet to catch up with the specific public health problems that e-cigarettes in particular pose. 

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Health professionals across the country are in virtual consensus in advising against the use of e-cigarettes, except as replacements for cigarettes as smoking cessation devices. Even then, there are nicotine delivery systems, such as chewing gum and patches, that are likely safer than vaping as they do not involve any inhalation of chemicals. The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, said that e-cigarettes should be clinically tested to determine whether they are effective as smoking cessation tools, and if they are they should only be available by prescription, which is the same standard to which other potentially dangerous drugs are held.

While recent develops certainly don’t bode well for the e-cigarette industry, it’s difficult to make any concrete predictions about the fate of affected companies. Famously, the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars lobbying against the notion that cigarettes cause cancer and other health problems, and were very successful in doing so for several years. Vaping has become so widespread that its popularity perhaps even eclipses that of the tobacco products that preceded it, and as a result, the industry has a lot of money to spend on resisting regulatory efforts. However, the government has fought Big Tobacco before, pioneering widespread public health campaigns in an attempt to stop tobacco use, and as such has plenty of relevant experience to apply to fighting Juul and similar companies. Meanwhile, a meaningful segment of an entire generation of young people who otherwise would not have been exposed to nicotine are addicted to vaping, and only time will tell how they will be able to get their nicotine fix in the years to come.


Juul’s CEO Resigns In Response To Health Epidemic

As the United States continues to fight a massive vaping-related lung illness epidemic, Juul Labs, one of the countries largest and newest e-cigarette distributors, has taken some hefty measures. Kevin Burns, the CEO of Juul Labs, has resigned effective immediately on Wednesday (September 24th). While the official word is that Burns resigned, representatives from the Altria Group, Juul Lab’s top investors, say it was their decision.

Burns personally apologized for contributing to the teen vaping epidemic with the announcement that he was leaving the company stating that he’s “very proud of [his] team’s efforts to lead the industry toward much needed category-wide action to tackle underage usage of these products, which are intended for adult smokers only.” 

Taking over for Burns will be Altria’s current senior vice president and chief strategy and growth officer, K.C. Crosthwaite. The company also announced that the business merger that was in the works between Juul and Philip Morris International, which sells Marlboro internationally, has been cancelled. Additionally a statement was released stating that Juul Labs will no longer produce any broadcast, print, and digital advertisements for itself in a greater attempt to comply with new federal e-cigarette policies as our government continues to finalize them. So the company is taking some major steps to get the hear from this epidemic off of them. 

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The United States has reported up to 530 cases of vape-related lung illness, and nine deaths among six different states. Scientists still have no idea what the main cause of this illness is, and while a majority of the vape products linked to these cases contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, they are still deeply analyzing ingredients in e-cigarette and nicotine vapes as well. 

A year ago Juul most likely never saw such a major downward spin coming, as the company became one of the most popular e-cigarette products on the market; which was precisely the problem. Juul Labs was known for their sleek USB-esque design and multitude of flavor pods such as fruit punch and creme brulee. This isn’t Juul’s first run in with government regulations, back in October 2018, the FDA performed a surprise raid of the companies headquarters and seized thousands of documents in an attempt to prove that Juul was purposefully advertising to a younger audience with its “fun and fruity” flavors. While Juul Labs never formally admitted to the accusation, the company did cease the distribution of any flavored pods besides tobacco, menthol, and mint. However, with a massive amount of off-brand Juul-compatible pods being left on the market, the teenage epidemic continued. 

Today, however, the Trump administration is working hard to federally regulate all flavored vaping products in response to the growth in teenage vape use, and rising national health concerns. So far there’s been a massive success, for example New York has already banned the selling of any flavored vape products/liquids. 

In a statement made to USA Today, new CEO Crosthwaite said the company “will continue a broad review of the company’s practices and policies to ensure alignment with its aim of responsible leadership within the industry. I have long believed in a future where adult smokers overwhelmingly choose alternative products from cigarettes, however that future is at risk due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry. Against that backdrop, we must strive to work with regulators and policymakers and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate. That includes inviting an open dialogue, listening to others and being responsive to their concerns.” 


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After String of Vaping-Related Hospitalizations, Walmart Ends E-Cigarette Sales

On Friday, Walmart said that it would stop selling all e-cigarettes after their inventory runs out, citing “the growing federal, state, and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes.” The announcement comes in the midst of a number of reports linking use of e-cigarettes, or other electronic vapor inhalation devices, to health issues, including hospitalizations and in a few cases death. Walmart joins Rite-Aid, Costco, and Dollar General in retailers who have decided to stop selling electronic nicotine delivery systems. And Target, Walmart’s biggest competitor, has never sold e-cigarettes and stopped selling cigarettes in 1996. That being said, Walmart is the largest retailer in the country, and other retailers tend to follow Walmart’s lead, as Walmart Chief Executive is the chairman of the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying organization that includes among its members some of the biggest companies in the world.

While the exact causes of the recent string of vaping-related health scares are as of yet unknown, many affected individuals reported vaping THC products, including some which were acquired illegitimately, and some patients reported using nicotine products. Nevertheless, Walmart’s decision reflects a rapidly-rising anti-vaping sentiment, as e-cigarette use among adolescents has skyrocketed, owing in part to the success of Juul, a company that manufacturers nicotine cartridges and diffusers which can easily be mistaken for USB drives. 

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The Trump administration had seriously considered banning all flavored vape products in an effort to curb their appeal among young people, but abruptly changed course. Other ways of fighting the popularity of vaping among youth, such as ultra-sensitive vapor detectors which can be installed in schools and other public places, have been proposed. And while manufacturers like Juul claim their products are intended as smoking cessation aids, to allow nicotine addicts to gradually reduce their intake of the drug, these manufacturers profit tremendously off of the sales of e-cigarettes to people who have no intention of quitting, particularly young people. The National Institute on Drug Abuse this week released survey results indicating that the prevalence of vaping among teenagers has doubled since 2017.

Walmart’s action will likely have little impact, as there’s no end in sight for the resilient and centuries-old tobacco industry, which now has more loyal customers than ever before.

It should be noted that Walmart continues to sell regular cigarettes, which have been found definitively to cause major health problems, including cancer, lung disease, and early death, whereas the long-term negative health effects of vaping are still unknown. Additionally, Walmart continues to sell assault-style weapons even in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings in the United States, though the company has imposed limits on the sale of ammunition and discourages open carry of guns in stores. Three major television stations, CNN, CBS, and Viacom have also said they’d stop airing advertisements from e-cigarette companies on their networks in response to fear about illnesses. Additionally, several politicians have returned donations that they received from e-cigarette companies like Juul, unwilling to be associated with companies that have the potential to become the face of a public health epidemic in this country. 

Some fear that Walmart’s decision will drive people who ordinarily vape to take up smoking cigarettes instead, as the retailer still offers the latter nicotine product. Others criticize the view that flavored e-cigarettes should be banned, noting that adults also enjoy flavored e-cigarettes, and banning flavors would negatively impact those who use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Regardless of Walmart’s decision to no longer sell e-cigarettes, the nicotine products are easy to find and acquire, even for teenagers, as they continue to be featured in gas stations, convenience stores, and smoke shops. As such, Walmart’s action will likely have little impact, as there’s no end in sight for the resilient and centuries-old tobacco industry, which now has more loyal customers than ever before.

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Melatonin Vape Pens: Are They Safe?

Over the past several years, the emerging technology of vape pens of a method of rapid drug administration has gained tremendous popularity. The most well-known type of this product are vape pens that administer nicotine, also called e-cigarettes, manufactured by popular brands like Juul and marketed as tools to replace cigarettes or help people reduce their nicotine addiction. While these apparent good intentions are admirable, the reality of e-cigarette proliferation has had negative health consequences in the United States: the popularity of these products has exploded, particularly among young people who use them recreationally instead of as a smoking cessation tool; the quantity of nicotine one can inhale with a vape pen is nearly unlimited, making the effects of nicotine dependency more pronounced compared to cigarettes; and recently, a string of vaping-related hospitalizations in the United States has led to concerns that vape products are not nearly as safe as their marketing would have you believe.

Nicotine, of course, is not the only drug that can be administered via battery-powered vapor devices. In states where the drug is legal, THC cartridges have been manufactured as an alternative to smoking marijuana, with users reporting a pronounced effect from the products relative to traditional smoking methods. The concerns associated with these products are similar to those associated with e-cigarettes, as the long-term health effects of inhaling vapor are not yet well understood and this style of administration makes high doses likely. Nevertheless, there’s no end in sight for the rise in popularity of vape pens, and businesses have started experimenting with products that deliver other substances.

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Perhaps the most well-known such business is Cloudy, who promotes their product heavily on Instagram and other social media platforms. Cloudy manufactures a disposable melatonin and essential oil personal diffuser, which they sell for $20 each and which promises to deliver a near-instant sense of sleepiness and relaxation. The device’s primary active ingredient, Melatonin, is a hormone that regulates the human sleep-wake cycle and has long been used to treat difficulty sleeping. While it is categorized by the FDA as a dietary supplement, not a medication, other countries such as the UK prohibit sale of the supplement without a prescription. When taken as a supplement, the hormone presents very few side effects, and it is generally considered safe to take low doses of melatonin even for periods of time lasting 12 months, although long-term reliance for sleep is not recommended.

As melatonin supplements are usually ingested orally and processed by the body’s digestive system, it usually takes between thirty minutes and an hour to feel the effects of the hormone. The main selling point of Cloudy’s personal diffuser is that the effects of Melatonin, when inhaled, can be felt nearly instantly, leaving users feeling ready to fall asleep within minutes. As such, the company claims that inhaling melatonin is superior to using orally-administered supplements, which they state can have inconsistent effects depending on how much food a person has eaten recently among other factors.

Cloudy also asserts that their product is a totally safe aromatherapy device, as it does not contain any of the artificial flavorings or drugs found in other vape products, instead relying on all-natural and vegan ingredients including lavender and chamomile, which are known to produce an effect of relaxation.

Within the past year, the CDC has reported that some of the ingredients present in nicotine and THC vaping products, such as Vitamin E Acetate,  caused thousands of individuals to experience lung collapse and other respiratory issues, however, those ingredients aren’t found in Cloudy’s products. In fact, the company’s website provides research that has been conducted about the effects of its ingredients, many of which have been thoroughly studied and not been found to produce harmful effects. And user reviews of the product seem to be overwhelmingly positive, lauding the diffuser as safe and effective, if the ones presented on the product’s website are to be trusted.

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Despite these promising indicators, there is of course reason to be concerned about these types of devices on the market. For one, while the effects of melatonin are fairly well-understood in the scientific community, the rapid route of administration via vapor has not been as thoroughly studied. Concern also exists regarding the long-term health consequences of reliance on a device that puts you to sleep within minutes. 

As such, I’d recommend caution when considering purchasing a melatonin diffuser. It’s important to note that, as they do not contain any ingredients which are classified as drugs by the FDA, these personal diffusers are largely unregulated and claims of the product’s efficiency are not held to the same legal standard of accountability as those of prescription drug manufacturers. Before starting any supplement, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. While it’s not legally required to have this conversation, your doctor can give you the well-informed perspective of a medical professional and can also take your individual health concerns into consideration, as supplements can have interactions with various prescription drugs and particular medical conditions. Nevertheless, while this category of product is new and untested, it does show promise as a medical device, particularly for those who have difficulty sleeping which is not treated well by traditional therapies and substances.


Concerns About Vaping Grow as Hospitalizations Increase

E-cigarettes, once thought to be a safer alternative to cigarettes and a tool for helping smokers quit, are drawing criticisms after a spike in vaping-related hospitalizations. While most people who use e-cigarettes as their preferred method of nicotine delivery experience little to no detrimental health effects, the consequences of vaping can be serious.