The Vaping Vice: What We Know So Far

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Max’s friends first introduced him to vaping at a homecoming after-party. He had tried cigarettes in the past, but with vaping he noticed the taste and the buzz was much better. After a few months of regular use, his grades fell drastically and he started selling some of his personal items to make the $100 a week he spent on his habit.

The final straw came when he couldn’t get rid of a nagging cough that only got worse. His parents took him to the emergency room and after all the smoke had cleared, the problem was found. Max was addicted to vaping, and he was seriously ill.

What is Vaping?
Vaping generally refers to tiny clouds of vapor that are made when a person inhales the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes, vaporizers or vapor pens. These devices, which are basically heated and battery-powered, deliver nicotine through a heated liquid called e-juice. Although some companies claim their e-cigarettes contain only water and flavoring, such as cotton candy and gummy bear, most users were unaware, until recently, that they were filled with nicotine. One brand of e-cigarettes has become so popular that a new verb, juuling, is now widely used to describe vaping.

What’s the Problem?
Four years ago, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned against vaping when it attempted to ban flavored fluids for e-cigarettes. Now, users are finding that they physically can’t stop themselves. They are addicted.

Vapers are young, too. Health officials say 70 percent of users are male and more than a third of them, an estimated 3.6 million, are under 21. Starting in September, we began hearing about a mysterious vaping-related lung disease that has doctors and parents urging the nation’s young users to quit. As this article goes to print, the number of vaping-related lung injury cases is over 1,000 and the number of deaths stands at 18, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The signs of vaping sickness can be tricky. People say they start experiencing symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue and vomiting gradually. When patients finally decide to go to the doctor or hospital, imaging shows lung injuries but no infections or other causes to explain it.

Currently, no single device or ingredient has been identified as the culprit, but many cases involve marijuana vaping. Officials also warn against counterfeit products. Dank is one such product that many ill patients have said they used. Although it is simply a box, dealers can buy the Dank box and empty cartridges in a vape store or online and put whatever they want inside.

Putting the Fire Out
In September 2019, President Trump proposed a ban on thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes. Over the last few months, the FDA has started the process of removing all e-cigarette flavors from the market except tobacco. In the meantime, the FDA says to stay away from vapes that contain THC, but they also warn against all illegal vaporizers with nicotine, salts and tobacco.

Some critics say that banning legal vapes could result in more teens smoking or switching from vaping to smoking. Others feel that banning vapes altogether will cause some nicotine-addicted people to buy products off the black market.

Talking to Our Kids
As more middle schoolers try e-cigarettes, experts say they need to understand the consequences and talking to them as early as age nine is a good way to get the conversation started. As parents, it may be easy to preach or accuse, but staying calm and educating ourselves about the risks offers a way to talk openly with accurate information and clear up any half-truths kids have learned second-hand. Perhaps, most importantly, we should aim to keep the conversations going. It isn’t a one-and-done talk. As new information comes about, dialogue can progress.

Moving Forward
In September of 2019, the CEO of e-cigarette maker Juul stepped down over backlash against the company’s marketing practices and the surge of illnesses and deaths that has followed. The company is also under investigation for criminal practices. U.S. health officials continue to study and view patterns in the hundreds of serious lung injuries in people who use e-cigarettes.

The Final Word
It’s a no-brainer. Until we know all the issues with vaping, federal and state officials say don’t do it. If people do choose to vape, then use brand name e-cigarettes without any additives such as marijuana or other drugs and certainly don’t use any “street” vapes.

The bottom line is this. As with smoking, it took us a while to see the harm we can be doing to our bodies with vaping. The job of our lungs is to inhale and move fresh air into our bodies while removing the bad stuff. Vaping can only get in the way. ■

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