The Associated Press this week released a report dubbed “Tobacco - (The) Lost Decade,” outlining what many critics see as a failure by the Food and Drug Administration to enact sweeping changes envisioned by Congress a decade ago to, in the words of AP health writer Matthew Perrone, “begin regulating cigarettes and related products responsible for a half-million American deaths annually.”

In short, the long battle against cigarettes — and against Big Tobacco — is still being waged. While cigarette use has fallen, the struggle to do more, and save more lives, is real.

For many, especially young people, vaping — using an e-cigarette to inhale vapor infused with nicotine, flavors and other chemicals — has become the socially acceptable, “safer” replacement for cigarettes.

For vapers, and parents of vapers, might we suggest a deep, smoke-free breath and a moment of reflection to consider some recent history.

Late last year, the US Food and Drug Administration indicated e-cigarette use had reached an “epidemic” proportion among minors.

Meanwhile, at your local middle school and high school, more and more teens were vaping.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 193 cases of lung disease linked to vaping have been reported in 22 states. Those numbers are on the rise.

Meanwhile, the teens keep vaping.

Last week, an Illinois man died from lung problems linked to his e-cigarette use, according to health officials in that state. It is believed to be the first death attributed to vaping.

And the teens — perhaps you, or your teen — keep vaping.

“This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, CDC director, said. “Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents.”

Put more succinctly, “We let this Frankenstein loose without knowing what was going to happen.”

Those were the words of Dr. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program at Boston Children’s Hospital back in January.

We made mistakes with cigarettes and we’re still trying to clean up that mess. Can we afford to make the same mistakes with vaping? The warning signs are out there. Vaping is not smoking, but from early indications, it is no less harmful.

Big Tobacco was allowed to become a behemoth, wreaking havoc in its path. We owe it to our young people to be aware of, and ultimately stop, this new Frankenstein.

— Craig Staszkow, for the editorial board

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