Science in School: Juul CEO Resigns as Vaping Death Toll Reaches Nine

Aarna Pal-Yadav

Last Wednesday (September 25, 2019), Kevin Burns, the CEO of Juul, resigned due to criticism and statewide prohibitions of e-cigarettes. KC Crosthwaite, the new CEO said that Juul’s future is volatile “due to unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry.” But the public’s “eroding confidence” is completely justifiable: already, nine people have died due to vaping. Even though people are dying, as of now, scientists do not know much about this “mysterious vaping illness.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 530 lung injuries related to vaping in addition to the nine people who have died from vaping Juul.

A federal ban will prohibit Juul from advertising the “Make the Switch” campaign. The Food and Drug Administration has stated that the campaign violates federal marketing regulations because the phrase implies that e-cigarettes are healthier than normal cigarettes, which scientists are not sure they are. This is because scientists are not yet sure what e-cigarettes do to vapers’ lungs and cardiovascular system. Dr. Frank Leone, director of Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Programs at Penn Medicine, explained that the assumption that e-cigarettes are healthier than cigarettes is not “based on the kind of science we expect when introducing something into the body.”

One ingredient in e-cigarettes is THC. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that THC is a chemical that produces many of marijuana’s mental effects. This chemical stimulates the release of dopamine, a hormone that triggers elation, making it a popular drug. On the other hand, THC hinders the formation of new memories because it obstructs the hippocampus. Side effects also include hallucinations, anxiety, memory impairment, impaired movement, and schizophrenic symptoms. Are a few hours of happiness worth all these adverse reactions?

Dr. Ned Sharpless, the acting commissioner of the FDA, announced that vitamin E acetate, a “skin oil” was also found in e-cigarettes. Dr. Sharpless stated that vitamin E “has no business being in a pulmonary product”. Michelle Francl, a chemistry professor at Bryn Mawr College referred to vitamin E acetate as grease when inside the lungs. Vitamin E is gaseous in vaping products, meaning it is heated to its boiling point of 363 degrees Fahrenheit. When it is inside your lungs, it cools and condenses into liquid, meaning “it has now coated the inside of your lungs with that oil”. The respiratory symptoms – such as coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain – vapers reported may be because of the vitamin E oil in their lungs. The purpose of the lungs is to exchange gases, so it cannot get rid of the vitamin E oil; this accumulation of vitamin E causes inflammation. Then, hen the immune system sends cells to “clean up the cell debris” it “they get in the way of gas exchange.” Simply put, vitamin E acetate is yet another ingredient in e-cigarettes that does not belong in the lungs because it impairs gas exchanges.

Scientists have noticed that the lungs of vapers have immune cells full of drops of oil in them. These lipid-laden macrophages may help doctors diagnose and treat vaping patients. According to Julie Kiefer, the Associate Director of Science Communications at the University of Utah Health, it sounds like the immune system sent these cells to the lungs to clean up debris and found a lot of foreign substances. Our bodies identify the substances in e-cigarettes as harmful so why do people continue to use e-cigarettes?