The Vaping Crisis Evolves: 5 Things to Know
3 MINUTE READ
The mystery behind the lung diseases and deaths tied to vaping is clearing up. But the dangers remain. Here’s what you need to know to keep healthy.
Dr. Don Liss, Vice President & Chief Medical Officer
Federal authorities have begun to bring clarity to the recent epidemic of severe lung diseases and deaths tied to e-cigarettes and other vaping products. But even as more is known about the causes behind the nationwide outbreak, vaping remains a danger for users of all ages.
Although the number of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases and deaths appear to be declining, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are still fielding new cases every week. As of the middle of January, more than 2,600 hospitalized EVALI cases had been reported to the CDC from all 50 states as well as 60 confirmed deaths in 27 states and the District of Columbia.
As the investigations continue, here are five things to know about vaping to keep everyone – including teens and young adults – healthy:
1. What's in the vaping liquid matters. According to the CDC, EVALI patients reported using 152 product brands that contained THC, a mind-altering compound of marijuana that produces the “high.” Vitamin E acetate, used as a thickening agent in THC-containing e-cigarettes, has now been associated with EVALI.
The CDC cautions that many different substances are still being investigated, and there may be more than one cause. However, the agency is recommending that vitamin E acetate should not be added to vaping products. It also says that people should not use THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, family, or in-person or online sellers.
2. Some restrictions have arrived. This year, the federal government banned the sale of e-cigarettes containing the addictive drug nicotine to people under age 21. In addition, federal officials plan to forbid the sale of most mint- and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges and liquid nicotine that is used to refill vaping tanks – the source of most EVALI cases. Also, the New Jersey legislature just passed three bills that cap the quantity of nicotine in vaping liquids and cartridges and bar the sale of flavored products. Gov. Phil Murphy, who appointed a task force to study this issue last year, has already signed one bill and vetoed the other.
3. Teen vaping continues to rise. According to a July 2019 Gallup poll, eight percent of Americans say they have vaped within the past week. This rate is much higher for adolescents. According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco survey by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, 27.5 percent of high schoolers reported using an e-cigarette in the previous 30 days, up from 20.8 percent in 2018. Nearly one million youth report using a vaping product daily.
4. Vaping can cause dangerous health effects, especially for young adults. Both e-cigarette cartridges as well as the liquids used to refill the tanks of larger vaporizers contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and particularly harmful to adolescents. It can harm teens’ brain development, affecting attention, learning, mood and impulse control, according to the CDC. The drug can also raise blood pressure, putting people at risk for heart disease or stroke. Because e-cigarettes have been around only for a short time, the long-term health effects are unknown.
Some e-cigarettes contain more nicotine than regular cigarettes, making them more addictive. The CDC reports that vaping can also lead some people to use tobacco products in the future.
5. When it comes to stopping vaping, knowledge is a powerful deterrent. According to the CDC, talking to teens about the dangers of vaping and setting a good example by being tobacco-free can help prevent or stop the use of e-cigarettes. This tip sheet can help parents start the conversation.
Health care providers can also play a role in exposing the harmful effects of vaping. If you are concerned that your teen may be vaping or may find themselves tempted to experiment, this would be a good topic to address with your child’s health care provider at their next check-up.
Vaping originally held promise as a less harmful alternative to regular cigarettes for adult smokers. Now that vaping has been associated with serious health consequences, Horizon BCBSNJ encourages anyone who vapes or uses e-cigarettes to quit.