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The dangers of vaping

Published in For the Health of It Author: Roxanne Schmiesing,PA-C

Every day, it seems the illness and death toll related to vaping continues to rise. While medical experts search to find answers, there is one thing we can all agree on.

It’s time to stop vaping.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic reported that the lung damage they’ve seen in people who have become ill from vaping resembles a chemical burn similar to WWI mustard gas.

“All 17 of our cases show a pattern of injury in the lung that looks like a toxic chemical exposure, a toxic chemical fume exposure, or a chemical burn injury,” said Dr. Brandon T. Larsen, a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. “To be honest, they look like the kind of change you would expect to see in an unfortunate worker in an industrial accident where a big barrel of toxic chemicals spills, and that person is exposed to toxic fumes and there is a chemical burn in the airways.”

E-cigarettes now represent the most common nicotine-containing products used in the United States, especially among adolescents and young adults. These convenient, battery-powered devices allow users to simulate smoking by heating liquids, oils, or waxes that contain nicotine to form a mist that can be inhaled or “vaped.”

Since 2007, vaping has continued to grow in popularity, with e-cigarettes taking on new looks. The first generation electronic cigarette (or “cig-a-like”) that actually looked like a real cigarette was soon replaced by vape pens, vape mods, and e-hookahs that produced more vapor and higher nicotine contents. Then, in 2015, JUUL (“jewel”) entered the scene, featuring a sleek, rechargeable, rectangular design that resembled a USB flash drive and could be easily hidden from parents and teachers. Making matters worse, marketing efforts by companies like JUUL targeted young people with popular candy-like flavors for their “juice” pods such as mango, mint, menthol, crème, and fruit.

Of course, the criminal element was also quick to jump on the bandwagon, recognizing that nicotine wasn’t the only product that could be delivered via e-cigarette. They began manufacturing marijuana and other illicit drugs for e-cig devices, also targeting young people. Initially, researchers studying the lung-related illnesses thought there was a possible link to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but that theory has since been disproven. Researchers have found that, while it’s true the majority of the 1,000+ cases involved users who vaped THC, others say they only vaped nicotine.

So, while the medical experts continue to try and wrap their heads around this growing epidemic, there is one thing that is abundantly clear. Vaping is addictive and dangerous. It should not be viewed as a safe alternative to tobacco, nor should it be viewed as a way to quit smoking. With more than one in four U.S. high school students now vaping on a regular basis, we are in the midst of a public health emergency.

Talk to your kids about the dangers of vaping. If you vape, it’s time to stop. Better yet, don’t even start.