In August, Wisconsin officials issued a warning telling people to stop vaping after a sudden rise in vaping related illnesses in Wisconsin and Illinois. As of November, there have been over 2,000 cases of vaping-related illnesses, and 34 reported deaths throughout the US. This is clearly an issue, especially since doctors aren’t quite sure how vaping causes the illnesses. However, this sudden concern about an issue that has only 34 fatalities has led some people to wonder why vaping has drawn so much concern when there are many other teen health issues that haven’t been addressed by the government.
Alcohol kills over 4,300 underage drinkers per year and cigarettes kill around 3,600 people each day. Every day we lose about 100 people due to gun violence. So far, only 34 people have died from vaping, and yet the government immediately issued warnings and has talked about removing the products from the market. One explanation for why this vaping crisis has been addressed so quickly can be traced back to the early 1850’s when the New York government was first told they needed to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
The government ignored this advice for 16 years, until New York City finally opened its first permanent public health department. Why the sudden change in heart after all those years? The obvious answer is that diseases increased over the years, however, this is not the case. The reason that they finally created this department was because the wealthy were starting to be affected as well. Before this, infectious diseases had been seen as a ‘poor people problem,’ and so lawmakers paid little attention to it since they didn’t think it was affecting people like them.
This same mentality can be seen in a variety of similar cases within the past 50 years, such as the difference in how crack cocaine and powder cocaine were addressed by the government. Both were popular in the 80’s, however crack cocaine was cheaper and more popular in black communities, whereas powder cocaine was used in richer, white communities. Although these are essentially the same drug, the punishment for distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine had the same punishment as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.
Similarly, opioids have been a problem since the late 70’s and were only declared a crisis in 2017. While the death count did increase some, the main difference between 1979 and 2017 was that in 1979 the deaths were mostly black people. However in 2017, twice as many white people died as black, indicating that problems like these were only considered epidemics when they became white people problems.
Keeping this in mind, we can revisit the vaping crisis and see why a health issue with only 34 fatalities has already been declared an emergency, while smoking has not been seen as a major issue in years despite having over 3,600 fatalities per day. Vaping is mainly affecting affluent white teenagers and young adults, whereas smoking is mainly associated with poorer communities. Smoking as a national health issue has been put on the back burner despite the fact that it persists in many communities.
The vaping-related illnesses are a very serious issue and definitely deserve the attention they are receiving, especially since we don’t know the cause. However, the extreme focus given to this issue over those with a higher mortality rate is extremely dangerous. Lawmakers need to understand that even though they may not intend to put one person's life above another’s, when they choose to direct all their attention to one subject and turn a blind eye to another, they are saying one life is worth more than the other.
[Source: Los Angeles Times]
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