By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Vaping has been an issue that continues to concern medical professionals, especially after several states reported unexplained teenage hospitalization, lung injuries and deaths.
This year, more than 1,500 lung injury cases associated with the use of vaping products have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nationwide. Thirty-three deaths have been confirmed in 24 states. All patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette or vaping, products.
Vaping works by heating a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. The liquid can contain nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoid (CBD) oils, and other substances and additives. THC is the psychoactive mind-altering compound of marijuana that produces the “high.”
“Until we know more information about vaping, it should be avoided,” said physician James Murray, pulmonary disease specialist at Unity Hospital, which is part of Rochester Regional Health.
Murray offers five facts about vaping that he wants the public to understand.
“Vaping is relatively new, compared to the decades of experience we have with combustible cigarettes, not to mention the THC, CBD oil or other agents that are part of what people are vaping.”
1. More research needs to be done
There are some that say vaping is a safer version than smoking because it may produce fewer toxins and chemical compared to a traditional cigarette. But with the sudden rash of reported deaths, there has been a hyper focus on investigating these cases. Since the specific cause or causes of lung injury are not yet known, the only way to assure that you are not at risk while the investigation continues is to consider refraining from the use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products.
“It took decades for us to truly realize all the damage that was happening from cigarettes,” said Murray. “There is so much we don’t know about vaping and we truly need to investigate the issue. Kids are coming into the hospital with severe lung issues after vaping and that cannot be ignored.”
The CDC and the Federal Drug Administration have not identified the cause or causes of the lung injuries in these cases, and the only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette or vaping, products.
2. It is being marketed to kids
People remember the cartoonish Joe Camel advertisements that many believed helped usher in the wave of teenage smoking. Medical experts see the same pattern happening with vaping. More than 150 various vape flavors exist, including gummy bear, cotton candy, Pina colada, tiramisu, strawberry cheesecake, watermelon, Doritos, kiwi and grape.
“With teens gravitating to the flavors, vaping was marketed as a healthier and more appealing option to smoking. When you make these kinds of flavors available in chemical form, some of the appeal is going to attract children and young adults,” added Murray. “This is getting younger people addicted to nicotine and, secondly, it promotes and normalizes smoking behaviors.”
3. There is no benefit to vaping
Because vaping or e-cigarettes contain some form of ingesting nicotine into the lungs, smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases and affects the health of smokers in general. Avoiding vaping lowers your risk for smoking-related diseases and can add years to your life. Smoking causes stroke and coronary heart disease, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States. There is no safe tobacco product. All tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, carry a risk. “Smoking is one of the largest and most significant contributions to poor health,” said Murray. “It is inherently bad and should be avoided by everyone. It is the underlying factor to so many diseases.”
4. People need to know more about vaping
While vaping may be common on campuses and among groups of teens and smokers, in general there isn’t a lot of awareness about the trend. There are people who suggest it is inherently safer and more natural and others who say it is a successful way to quit nicotine.
“The problem is, there is a lot of information out there around the potential risks and there needs to be a coherent and cohesive message disseminated from as many medical experts as possible,” said Murray. “While some people might report that it helped them quit smoking many remained addicted to nicotine.”
5. The illness is real
People who vape are developing symptoms and findings consistent with a toxic inhalation syndrome, which includes coughing and shortness of breath. Inhaled substances may cause injury in pulmonary epithelium at various levels of respiratory tract, leading from simple symptoms to severe disease.
“We have patients that are coming in with a variety of symptoms, some with severely reduced oxygen levels,” said Murray. “They are experiencing inflammation in their lungs and airways.”