Next week, vaping will be prohibited on school grounds in Maine. This is a helpful, but small, step toward warding off the dangers of e-cigarettes.
There is still much we don’t know about e-cigarettes. But, what we do know is concerning.
Five recent deaths have been tied to lung ailments linked to vaping, according to health officials. There are now 450 possible cases of “a mystery illness” tied to vaping in 33 states and one U.S. territory, The Washington Post reported last week.
Health officials warn that no conclusions have been reached about what caused the illness, but some similarities are emerging. Doctors have found abnormal immune cells in the lungs of several patients who have developed severe lung problems. A doctor in Utah, who treated a 20-year-old man who went from healthy and hiking to near death in a matter of days, said the cells are like those found in elderly patients who had accidentally ingested droplets from oil-based laxatives. This led to the theory that the heated liquid in e-cigarettes, which is inhaled as an aerosol, may be to blame. Researchers have yet to determine if the liquid itself or ingredients that are added to it, such as nicotine and THC, are to blame. Sometimes, ingredients are added to the liquid after the product has been purchased.
Researchers in Wisconsin and Illinois looked at 53 cases of illness among people who vaped. All but three of the patients were hospitalized and half required intensive care. Most of the patients reported using THC, but researchers caution that a wide variety of products and brands were used by those who were studied, so it is too early to draw conclusions.
The patients were predominantly male with an average age of 19.
Which brings the concern back to e-cigarette use among youth. While e-cigarettes have been touted as a way to help adults reduce or stop smoking, they can have the opposite effect on young people, leading them to smoke cigarettes.
After years of decline, the percentage of American teenagers who report smoking cigarettes rose last year. The percentage of teens who routinely use e-cigarettes continues to rise as well.
Although the numbers are small, a rise in teen smoking rates is cause for concern. Nearly 90 percent of current adult smokers began before they were 18. So, reducing teen smoking rates can have long-term positive consequences. Tobacco-related illnesses are the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, costing the U.S. about $300 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity due to illness and premature deaths.
According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year, 8.1 percent of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the prior 30 days in 2018. That’s an an increase from 7.6 percent in 2017. Previously, the rate had been declining. The data are from the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Overall use of tobacco products rose as well. In 2018, 27 percent of high school students reporting using tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. That’s a significant increase from nearly 20 percent the previous year.
E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products by teens, and their use is increasing. Last year, nearly 21 percent of high school students nationally reported using e-cigarettes, a big jump from nearly 12 percent in 2017.
Here in Maine, 15 percent of high school students in a 2017 survey reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.
As researchers scramble to learn more about the illnesses linked to vaping, caution is in order — for adults and teens. Regulations, by their nature, will be slow. So e-cigarette users and parents should put caution at the forefront of their decisions about vaping.