A historically black college in Tennessee is planning to research the impact of electronic cigarettes and vaping with a grant from vaping device maker JUUL Labs. JUUL has been under fire as teenage e-cigarette use has skyrocketed in recent years to the point that former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., called it "an epidemic." 

 

Meharry Medical College in Nashville says that it and JUUL Labs have structured the $7.5 million grant in ways meant to ensure the "full autonomy" of the new Meharry Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health, including "sole ownership of the sponsored research and complete control over publication of the findings." A statement from Meharry's president and CEO, Dr. James Hildreth, says few issues require more research than "the rising prevalence of e-cigarettes, including how they affect young people."

"The grant from JUUL Labs gives Meharry the unique opportunity to take the lead on a new line of fully independent research in this critical area of public health," Hildreth said. "Smoking has had disproportionately negative effects on minority, and particularly African-American, populations for decades. At Meharry, we have been on the front lines of treating those impacted by this scourge and see firsthand how smoking can destroy lives. Our goal is to help set a new course for education, prevention and policy surrounding the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes."

The JUUL grant comes on the heels of a New York Times report that JUUL "aggressively recruits scientists to prove to the Food and Drug Administration, and to the public, that 'juuling' offers more public health benefit than risk. If it fails to submit proper evidence by 2022, the agency could halt all sales."

In September 2018, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., pointed out the heightened number of U.S. teenagers using e-cigarettes, calling the trend in numbers "an epidemic." 

"E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous ? and dangerous ? trend among teens," Gottlieb said. "The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we're seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end. It's simply not tolerable. I'll be clear. The FDA won't tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine as a tradeoff for enabling adults to have unfettered access to these same products."

CBS News reported in January that the American Academy of Pediatrics called for a major new effort to discourage children and teenagers from using e-cigarettes. According to AAP data, last year 20 percent of high school students, and five percent of middle school students, used e-cigarettes; that is a 75 percent jump overall since 2017.

On "CBS This Morning," Dr. Tara Narula called the use of e-cigarettes among young people as "an epidemic" that is affecting 3.6 million youth. "And we know it's not just the harms of the e-cigarettes, but the fact that it is a gateway to traditional cigarette use."