Columns for The Lufkin News

Vaping Dangers are Frightening

Posted Oct 13, 2019 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Over the last few months, a rapid rise of vaping related acute lung disease has come to light. Both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS, which includes products known as “e-cigarettes”), are actively engaged in investigating this outbreak, which some are calling an epidemic.[1] Certainly, vaping is epidemic among our youth.

As of the end of September, the number of confirmed or probable cases of life-threatening vaping-related lung disease has risen to 805 across 46 states and the US Virgin Islands. About three-quarters of the reported cases are male; nearly 4 in 10 are age 21 or younger.[2][3] Most importantly, all reported cases have a history of e-cigarette product use or vaping. Patients often require ICU and ventilator support. Thirteen people have died so far.

Authorities don’t know which chemical(s) are responsible for these vaping-related illnesses. An early idea was that only illicit THC products (black market marijuana oils) were to blame, but this evidently is not the case. Yes, these illnesses are more prevalent among THC vapers than users who self-report using only nicotine products, but vapers who don’t use THC are also getting sick. Vitamin E acetate is also being considered as a potential cause, but no single chemical has been consistently identified in all of the samples tested. At the present time, no particular device, brand, flavor or substance has been definitively linked.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of lung injury reported by some patients in this outbreak include[4] cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, fatigue, fever, or abdominal pain. These symptoms usually have a rapid onset over a few days, but some patients have reported that their symptoms developed over several weeks. A lung infection does not appear to be causing the symptoms. NPR reports that in all confirmed cases, patients reported vaping within 90 days of developing symptoms, and most had vaped within a week of symptom onset.[5]

What should you do?

If you vape, stop. There are other ways to control nicotine addiction. Playing Russian roulette with your lungs is not smart and not cool. Certainly, anyone who vapes should not buy products off the street or add any substances, like THC or CBD oils.[6] If you have recently vaped and you have symptoms, see a healthcare provider, and let them know of your concern. They can notify the health department or CDC if necessary.

Vaping is not a harmless fad. Our lungs are elegant, fragile, life-giving organs that don’t react kindly to smoky chemicals, whatever the source. The acting head of the FDA admitted recently in testimony before a House subcommittee that the FDA “should have acted sooner” to contain the youth vaping epidemic.[7] And the CEO of Juul, maker of vaping products that targeted kids with enticing flavors like mango, grape, and strawberry lemonade, stepped down amid intensifying scrutiny of the brand’s marketing practices.[8] His replacement, unfortunately, is a seasoned tobacco executive, so don’t expect Juul to give up the fight. Too much money is at stake.

But our kids’ health and future is at stake as well. We must remove flavored e-cigarettes from the marketplace. And any marketing practices that target kids with addicting and dangerous products are unacceptable. E-cigarette products flooded the marketplace and were never appropriately reviewed. Frankly, the FDA dropped the ball on this, and people are dying as a result. Finally, until and unless sales to kids can be prevented, online sales of e-cigarettes should be stopped.

Let’s hope our federal agencies can act quickly and forcefully both to identify what is causing these illnesses and deaths and to regulate access to e-cigarette products. If the federal government won’t act, our state legislators should. The health and safety of our kids is at stake.

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/...

[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/v...

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/media/rele...

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/ba...

[5] https://www.npr.org/sections/h...

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/ba...

[7] https://www.nbcnews.com/health...

[8] https://www.nbcnews.com/busine...

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