Vaping - you can’t turn on a television or radio, pick up a newspaper or magazine (or venture online to any news source) and not be bombarded by a deluge of reports on a mystery illness that has been swiftly spreading across the nation.
Every day there are more deaths linked to this as yet undefined lung illness which has been established as directly related to the use of electronic cigarettes (commonly referred to as e-cigarettes) and the process by which they deliver nicotine and other products, called vaping.
E-cigarettes are also known as vape pens, vapes, mods, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). These devices work by heating the liquid inside the cartridges or pods which creates an aerosol that is then inhaled, as one would do when smoking a traditional cigarette. The liquid inside these devices can contain nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoid (CBD) oils, as well as other substances and additives, including unknown chemicals. The most common uses of the e-cigarette is to deliver nicotine and/or THC. E-cigarettes containing specifically nicotine are available in various strength cartridges that can be adjusted to further increase the voltage on the device, delivering additional, higher amounts of nicotine.
So what’s all the hype about with this vaping crisis?
How is it any different than smoking cigarettes? Vaping and e-cigarettes were originally marketed as a smoking cessation aid and many former cigarette smokers credit vaping as the single most important factor in their ability to quit smoking cigarettes. Surprisingly, studies published by Johns Hopkins Medicine revealed that electronic cigarettes are just as addictive as regular cigarettes and therefore, do not present an effective means by which to quit smoking cigarettes. Additionally, these devices have not been approved by the FDA to be utilized for smoking cessation. Furthermore, a recent study showed that individuals who used e-cigarettes as a means of smoking cessation not only returned to smoking traditional cigarettes, but utilized e-cigarettes as well.
E-cigarette use by high school students had increased by 900 percent, with 40 percent of those users never having even smoked a regular cigarette or used any other form of tobacco
When it comes to the vaping epidemic, the broader concern lies within the marketing tactics used to entice teens to begin using e-cigarettes. According to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that in 2015 e-cigarette use by high school students had increased by 900 percent, with 40 percent of those users never having even smoked a regular cigarette or used any other form of tobacco. It has become abundantly clear as time passes that e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly attractive to teens because they (falsely) believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. The fact that e-cigarettes tend to cost less than regular cigarettes may also play a role in the increase in amount of teens choosing to vape.
Finally and probably the most problematic factor in teen use of e-cigarettes, is that the cartridges and liquid used in the devices come in a variety of flavorings which appeal to a younger audience such as watermelon, cotton candy, mint, mango, apple pie - the list goes on. So why wouldn’t a teen participate in the use of e-cigarettes and vape pens? They’re cheaper than cigarettes, they don’t produce a foul smell, they come in various enticing flavors and they are led to the belief that using these devices is a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes. Currently, across the country efforts are being made to ban the sale of flavored vape “juice” in hopes that this will deter teens from using e-cigarettes.
Now, to the nitty-gritty facts:
- Currently, the Center for Disease Control’s website lists that as of October 1, 2019, 1,080 lung injury cases associated with vaping have been reported from 48 states and one U.S. territory.
- Eighteen deaths have been confirmed.
- 16% of these patients are under eighteen years old
- 21% being between the ages of 18 and 21
- 81% of patients are under 35 years old
These statistics are increasing so steadily that the CDC now updates their website with new information every Thursday.
What Symptoms Are People Having?
So, people are getting sick, they are suffering from some unknown lung illness, but we do not know why these illnesses are occurring and by what processes they are occurring within the body. It is only by gathering data that we will be able to learn why people are becoming ill and thereby develop ways in which to prevent illness and death related to vaping and the use of e-cigarettes. The symptoms recorded across the board in patients with these lung related illnesses includes cough, shortness of breath, cheat pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and abdominal pain. Patients report both becoming acutely ill and others note that their symptoms increased over the course of several weeks. There has been no correlation between existing lung infections and vaping related illnesses.
The takeaway here is that there are just too many unknowns when it comes to the health effects of vaping and the use of e-cigarettes, including the specific chemical makeup of the products being used which is compounded by the fact that no single product or substance seems to be identified in every single case. Ingredients in the products vary greatly and there is no way that a consumer can identify what is contained in the products that they are purchasing and using. Some products may have been altered by the supplier. The bottom line is that there is just no way to know what you are purchasing.
So what can you do?
The obvious answer is to discontinue use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, especially products which contain THC, which appears to have a strong correlation between use and illness. According to the Center For Disease Control’s website, efforts are being made to respond to this public health crisis including identifying and defining the risk factors and sources of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use and vaping, maintaining close communication with state, local and clinical practitioners regarding recommendations for treatment and prevention and developing lab procedures to identify the cause of illness, thereby providing better patient care and favorable patient outcomes.
What it boils down to is that there are just too many unknowns when it comes to why and how these illnesses are occurring. It is better to operate on a “better safe than sorry” mentality and educate yourself, your family and friends regarding the health risks associated with vaping and e-cigarette use. If you, a family member, or a friend experience any of the symptoms listed above, seek medical attention immediately through a primary care physician, local urgent care, or emergency room.
Are you an adult who has quit smoking or trying to quit smoking?
The CDC has very specific recommendations:
- Do not return to smoking cigarettes.
- If you continue to use e-cigarettes, carefully monitor yourself for symptoms and see a healthcare provider right away if you have symptoms like those reported in this outbreak.
If you are an adult who is trying to quit smoking:
- Contact your healthcare provider if you need help quitting tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
- Use evidence-based treatments, including counseling and FDA-approved treatments.
More information regarding e-cigarettes and vaping can be found by visiting the Centers for Disease Control’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html
Johns Hopkins Medical’s website found at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/5-truths-you-need-to-know-about-vaping
The Center on Addiction’s website located at https://www.centeronaddiction.org/e-cigarettes/recreational-vaping
Free resources & counseling offered by NYS Smoker's Quit Line.
Rensselaer County resources:
The Butt Stops Here
Seton Health @ St. Mary’s Hospital
The program fee is $45 Medicaid participants pay a $20 fee for seven 1-hour sessions with the option of signing up for additional support sessions and is covered by some health plans. The program includes a workbook and 4-weeks of nicotine patches or gum. Tuesdays 6:00-7:00p To register for The Butt Stops Here, call (518) 459-2550. For more information,visit our website at quitsolutions.org
1300 Massachusetts Avenue, Troy, NY 12180
Phone: (518) 459-2550