Vaping popularity is unrelenting in Utah and throughout the United States, even as evidence is coming to light of potentially serious side effects for users, especially youths.
Vaping is inhaling aerosolized flavor, chemicals and usually nicotine. While it's only legal for people ages 19 and older in Utah, that hasn’t stopped teenagers and even younger children from experimenting with vapes.
In fact, a 2017 study published by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) found that 12.4% of 8th graders and 32.1% of 12th graders had experimented with vaping. Young people who report consistent or ongoing vaping is on the rise, as well.
“The adult vaping rate in Utah has been stable at 4.6 and 4.8 percent from 2013 to 2016,” UDOH says. “In comparison, vaping among students increased from 5.8 percent in 2013 to 11.1 percent in 2017.”
More disturbing is a report from the New England Journal of Medicine which estimates nationwide teen vape use in grades 10 through 12 has doubled from 2017 to 2019.
The popularity of vaping products in younger people is attributed to its wide range of candy and fruit-like flavors. False advertising in the past also led people to believe that vaping is non-addictive and causes no side effects, notes NPR.
While researchers acknowledge vaping tends to be less harmful to users than traditional (combustible) cigarettes, recent studies and health reports are finding more and more health risks associated with vaping. Some medical professionals are even blaming vaping on the deaths of young people. Here’s what parents, teens, teachers and healthcare providers should know.
Most vape products contain nicotine
What many youths don’t understand is that most vape products contain nicotine, an addictive substance that can cause symptoms of withdrawal if the user doesn’t continually expose themselves to it. JUUL, the most popular e-cigarette among teens, always contains nicotine, with one pod delivering as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association. The length of time it takes to consume one pod varies from user to user.
A 2018 study conducted by the Truth Initiative found that “nearly two-thirds – 63 percent – of JUUL users between 15 and 24 years old did not know that the product always contains nicotine...The majority of youth e-cigarette users think they vaped only flavoring, not nicotine, the last time they used a product.”
Efforts to expand education on the nicotine content in e-cigarette products have so far been unsuccessful in stemming the tide of new, young vape users.
Nicotine affects brain development
Human brains don’t stop growing until age 25, which is one major reason why the use of nicotine-containing vape products in youths is so concerning.
“Nicotine is highly addictive and can slow brain development in teens and affect memory, concentration, learning, self-control, attention and mood,” according to Kids Health. Early exposure to nicotine may also increase your risk of succumbing to other forms of addiction in later life.
E-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals
In addition to containing nicotine, e-cigarettes have been found to contain other harmful chemicals which can lead to serious lung damage. According to the Surgeon General, this includes a chemical in flavorings known as diacetyl which is linked to lung disease, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead.
Vaping serves as a “gateway” habit to smoking
Vaping was originally introduced as an alternative to traditional smoking and as a way to help smokers quit smoking, and while it is technically less damaging than traditional cigarettes, it is still an unhealthy habit that may lead to teens experimenting with other drugs.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in a survey of high school students, “vaping more frequently was associated with a higher risk of more frequent and heavy smoking six months later.” A small number of youths reported using vaping as a smoking cessation technique, however, “vaping was not associated with smoking reductions in baseline smokers.”
New reports link e-cigarette use with outbreak of lung injury cases in U.S.
As of Sept. 27, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a total of “805 lung injury cases reported from 46 states and 1 U.S. territory.” There were also 12 confirmed deaths in 10 states. Each of these cases had a history of vaping; however, the CDC says, “...no single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases.”
The symptoms of the vaping-related lung illness include chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, dry cough, nausea, fevers and vomiting. Mild cases have been known to improve in five to seven days, but more severe cases require weeks of recovery and possible admittance to an intensive care unit.
A study published by the University of Utah identified a possible identifying trait that could link the cases: large immune cells containing oily droplets known as lipid-laden macrophages.
Six out of six patients treated at University Hospital in Salt Lake City had identifiable numbers of lipid-laden macrophages in their lungs. Such macrophages are usually seen as an immune response to infections and perform the role of “custodian” cleaning up debris within the body. This discovery has led researchers to question whether the vaping respiratory illness could be a type of lipoid pneumonia. Further testing will be required to determine whether these macrophages can be found in additional patients.
As the CDC continues its investigation, it recommends people don't use any e-cigarette or vaping product, especially those containing THC. Young adults and pregnant women may be especially vulnerable to the side effects of vaping-related lung disease. Anyone experiencing symptoms like those described in this outbreak is counseled to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
What you can do
While it might seem hopeless if you're suffering from vape-related side effects, it's not. Besides seeing a healthcare professional, you can demand the justice you deserve. If you think you were injured as a result of a JUUL vaping product, contact Robert J. DeBry and Associates.