The synthetic nicotine loophole fueling a return to teenage vaping

“Sometimes there are so many people vaping in the bathrooms that it’s hard to do anything about it,” Ms Dhiman said, adding that she doesn’t vape.

FDA efforts to restrict teens’ access to flavored vapes have had little impact on Lizzie Burgess’ ability to get them in the Indianapolis suburbs over the past four years. Within weeks of starting vaping at 16, she said she became addicted. There was always a gas station, an older friend, or a website that sold e-cigarettes in flavors like banana ice cream or sour apple, she said.

By 19, she said, she was vaping THC and using a device — now touting tobacco-free nicotine — that contains as much nicotine as two packs of cigarettes every two to three days. She said she had contracted a cold, which had progressed to rapid breathing, almost gray lips and a feeling of exhaustion. When she went to the emergency room, her oxygen saturation was 67, well below the normal range of 95 or higher. Ms Burgess said she would soon be in intensive care with a vaping-related lung injury.

She struggles to quit her nicotine addiction and is down to two cigarettes a day.

“I think the FDA should take everything off the market now,” Ms. Burgess said of flavored vapes. “I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for them to juggle it all. It’s so big and there are so many companies now.”

Synthetic nicotine remains far more expensive than the tobacco-derived product, leading some industry experts to question the accuracy of device labeling as “synthetic”.

The unregulated vaping market at this point is an FDA concern, said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an industry trade group. He said the agency fueled the problem by over-regulating a product used by millions of adults who find vaping to be a safer alternative to smoking.

“This country should learn some lessons from previous bans that failed miserably,” Conley said. “If you don’t fairly regulate a market where there is high demand from legal adults, you will fuel gray and black markets where operators don’t bother to verify IDs prior to sale.”

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