When e-cigarettes were introduced into the American marketplace in 2007 they were billed by the industry as a cleaner way for adults to inhale nicotine as a tobacco cessation resource. It also provided an alternative nicotine delivery method to traditional smoking in spaces where smoking was banned. Vaping, as the use of e-cigarettes is called, was hailed as safe and harmless and designed to replace burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist flavored air.
Fast forward to 2019 and there are 17.3 million vapers (e-cigarette users) in the U.S., over 3.6 million of whom are under the age of 18, and revenues from e-cigarette sales have grown to around $30 billion annually. But now it appears America’s love affair with vaping is resulting in some dire consequences. The Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has linked vaping to an outbreak of 1,604 cases of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarettes, leading to 34 deaths confirmed in 24 states. What had been advertised as a harmless substitute for smoking tobacco is now a serious health threat, and so far, the CDC and FDA don’t have concrete answers about how the products are causing serious lung damage and even death.
The mysterious lung disease, associated with vaping causes chest pain, shortness of breath and vomiting, and thus far has primarily affected younger people. In the majority of reported cases over the past six months, almost 80%, involve vapers younger than 35 and another 15% are under18. All patients who have presented with it have a history of using vaping products. And Mississippians are not exempt. As of this printing, seven cases of vaping-related lung illness and one death have been reported in Mississippi.
At this time, the FDA and CDC have not identified the cause or causes of vaping-related lung injuries. The only commonality among all the cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products. So far, no one substance or ingredient has emerged as the cause of these illnesses to date; and it may be that there is more than one cause of the outbreak. Many different compounds and product sources are still under investigation. The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung conditions associated with e-cigarette product use, remains unknown at this time. However, THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high,” is present in most of the samples provided to the FDA for testing by patients with the illness. The latest national and state findings suggest that products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other unregulated sources, such as friends, family members, illicit dealers, are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.
Until the exact cause of the illness has been determined, the CDC recommends the following actions for those who use e-cigarettes:
• Refrain from using all e-cigarette or vaping products to ensure that you are not at risk.
• If you are an adult who used e-cigarettes containing nicotine to quit cigarette smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes.
• If you have recently used an e-cigarette or vaping product and you have symptoms like those reported above, see your healthcare provider.
Additionally, the CDC urges users not to buy products off the street containing THC or other cannabinoids and not to modify or add substances to e-cigarette products that are not intended by the manufacturer.
• Vaping is still believed to be less harmful than traditional smoking. The facts are not yet in on just how harmful vaping may prove to be, but what we do know at this time is that smoking regular tobacco cigarettes is even worse. However, with the concern currently surrounding vaping-related lung illness, there are no guarantees just how much safer it will be to use a vaping product to reduce tobacco-related health risks or to transition from smoking traditional cigarettes to not smoking.
• Vaping is no panacea. Nicotine, the primary agent in both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes, is highly addictive. It causes you to crave a smoke and suffer withdrawal symptoms if you ignore the craving. Nicotine is also a toxic substance. It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and raises your risk of having a heart attack. As the last months have shown us, there are many unknowns about vaping, including what chemicals make up the vapor and how they affect physical health over the long term.
• E-cigarettes are just as addictive as traditional ones. Research shows that the nicotine, found in both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes may be as addictive as heroin and cocaine. And, many e-cigarette users get even more nicotine than they would from a traditional tobacco product. Some vaping products offer extra-strength cartridges, which have a higher concentration of nicotine and e-cigarette voltage can be increased to deliver a stronger dose of the substance.
• E-cigarettes are not a reliable way to quit smoking. Although they’ve been marketed as a tool to help you quit smoking, e-cigarettes have not received FDA approval as a smoking cessation device. A recent study found that most people who intended to use e-cigarettes to kick the nicotine habit ended up continuing to smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes.
• An unsuspecting generation is getting hooked on nicotine. Among young people, e-cigarettes are more popular than any traditional tobacco product. In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported that vaping among high school students had increased by 900 percent, and 40 percent of young users had never smoked regular tobacco.
• E-cigarettes are particularly enticing to young people. Many teens believe vaping is less harmful than smoking and e-cigarettes have a lower per-use cost than traditional cigarettes. Plus, vape cartridges are often formulated with flavorings such as bubble gum, apple pie and watermelon to target younger users.
What is particularly concerning about the rise of vaping is that people who might have never smoked otherwise, especially those under 18, are taking up the habit. Many young people who start up nicotine use with vaping, could ultimately take up traditional tobacco products down the road.
Source: John’s Hopkins Medicine, HEALTH.