Ohio youth must be educated on the dangers of vaping

How it is that few in government regulatory agencies thought to question the safety of a new nicotine delivery system four years ago is a question that needs to be answered. For now, however, reversing what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is calling “the youth nicotine epidemic” needs to be the priority.

Ohio Department of Health officials have unveiled an initiative to educate the public — with emphasis on young people and their parents — about the dangers of vaping.

Vaping is the use of electronic devices to generate water vapor laden with nicotine and flavoring. Want your dose of unhealthy, habit-forming nicotine to taste like cappuccino or strawberry lemonade? Those are just two of the many varieties of e-cigarette cartridges available. One can see why critics accuse nicotine-delivery companies of aiming for the youth market.

Now, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging users of vaping devices to stop. That warning comes as CDC and other health agencies try to get to the root of a rash of pulmonary illnesses — at least 450 nationwide, with five deaths — linked to vaping.

At least ten severe pulmonary illness cases in Ohio are linked to vaping. Fourteen others in the Buckeye State are being investigated to learn whether they, too, are connected to use of e-cigarettes.

“The explosive increase in vaping among our youth is a public health crisis,” said state Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton in announcing an attempt to curb the practice. It includes three separate actions, the first of which is encouraging schools to ban vaping and educate students, parents and educators about it.

Second, the health department will spend $3.3 million “to develop and promote a set of tools and resources” that can be used to warn of the dangers of vaping.

Third, about $800,000 will be spent on a public education campaign.

Amounts state officials plan to spend pale in comparison to the marketing budgets of e-cigarette companies. Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration should consider finding more money for the public education campaign — and mandating an intensive school-based effort.

No one can say how many Ohio young people already have become hooked on e-cigarettes. That points to a shameful failure by everyone involved in allowing it to happen.

There will be time enough later to cry over spilled milk, however. Now, state government — and professional educators — need to do all they can to curb the epidemic.