October 4, 2019

The Vaping Debacle

The Vaping Debacle

Two weeks ago I wrote about guns. This week I’m turning to another scourge – vaping.

As a CEO, I’m appalled at the lack of conscience we’ve seen from the vaping industry. The predatory companies we see in the headlines reflect badly on the entire business community. And as a dad, I’m frustrated that the vaping crisis has spread through our schools like a virus. Parents and school administrators already have enough to worry about.

This disaster should never have happened in the first place. How hard was it to foresee that vaping would appeal to kids? Flavors like bubble gum and cotton candy have “teenager” written all over them. And how difficult was it to predict that putting a foreign substance containing nicotine into your lungs would very likely cause addiction, disease and even death?

No one wants a nanny state, but when it comes to public health, regulators have to step in, whether you’re talking about new outbreaks of diseases that were previously mostly eradicated (like measles in New York), or containing the damage being caused by new products in the marketplace. The Centers for Disease Control are already investigating 12 deaths and 805 lung-injury cases in 46 states and one U.S. territory that are attributed to vaping – and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. News reports now have the death toll of cases reported by states at 17. In most of the cases the CDC is looking at, the victims vaped black market THC, a cannabis ingredient, either alone or in combination with nicotine.

It devastates me that so many of the victims are so young. Nearly two-thirds are 18 to 34 years old, nearly a quarter are just 18-21, and 16% are under 18. It’s tragic.

Beyond the human toll, think about what a drain on government resources this epidemic is becoming. Cities and states are already struggling to keep pace with another greed-driven crisis, the opioid epidemic.

Now they have to spend time reining in the vaping industry. Michigan, New York, and Rhode Island are now restricting flavoring for e-cigarettes, Massachusetts just announced a four-month ban on all vaping devices and flavors, and Utah just passed emergency rules limiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes to tobacco specialty shops, which now have to post warnings. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, high schools and colleges have also been forced to address the vaping habit that’s sweeping their student bodies. Texas A&M University just banned vaping campus-wide. No doubt we’ll see a string of similar initiatives as administrators realize what a risk vaping poses to their students.

With all of this going on, I’m not surprised Juul – reportedly under a criminal probe – just replaced its CEO and stopped its TV, print and digital ads. Companies have a responsibility to the community. Vaping companies need to fix things – now. Backpedaling and spin won’t cut it. The public is tired of the trickle-down effect of business practices that hurt everyday people.

I guess I’m on a tear… Sorry, but I get worked up when our kids – not to mention our workplaces – are being jeopardized by the stubbornness/willfulness/lack of foresight of business leaders.

Every CEO knows there is money no company should go after – and this is a case in point.

I promise not to let public health crises become the only thing I write about in this column. Just needed to get this one off my chest.

Next Tuesday night begins Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and one of the most solemn days of the Jewish calendar. Jews worldwide will fast from sundown Tuesday until sundown Wednesday as they repent for the sins of the previous 12 months. For those of you who observe, may you be inscribed in the book of life for another year and have an easy fast.