As of November, 48 Americans have died from vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Once considered a safer option than cigarettes, vapes and e-cigarettes—particularly those used with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing products—are now linked to a lung condition known as e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).
Vapes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine-containing liquid to produce an aerosol that is inhaled. Nicotine is harmful and addictive. The liquid is usually flavored with fruit or other sweet flavorings, which can increase the rate of nicotine absorption due to the pH balance of the liquid. In some cases, vaping liquid may contain THC oil. THC is a natural compound found in cannabis plants and the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. Most people who have experienced EVALI used vaping liquid that contained THC oil.
“While vaping initially was marketed to consumers as a safer option than cigarettes, it does still deliver nicotine to the lungs and can cause lung inflammation,” explains Nirav N. Shah, DO, FACCP, a board-certified pulmonary and critical care specialist. “Vaping is not a safer alternative to smoking.”
How Vaping Affects the Lungs
The base of all vaping liquids is a combination of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Manufacturers add flavors that while deemed safe for food, aren’t meant to be smoked and inhaled.
“We simply don’t have enough information about how the body reacts when flavoring chemicals are inhaled instead of ingested in a food product as originally intended,” says Dr. Shah. “Some patients develop EVALI symptoms over a few days, while others notice symptoms over the course of several weeks.”
Many of these cases are misdiagnosed as pneumonia.
Are Teens at Risk?
An estimated 3.6 million middle school and high school students vape. This is particularly troubling because the lungs and brains of adolescents are still maturing, meaning that nicotine and THC can affect brain and lung development. According to JUUL, an e-cigarette manufacturer, a single 5% strength JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as 20 regular cigarettes.
“I advise parents to discuss these products with their children,” says Dr. Shah. “Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules on the safety of vaping, we need to get the word out to adolescents about the dangers before this trend becomes an epidemic.”
Programs to Help you Quit
Escape the Vape for Teens
Help your teen stop vaping with this program focused on the addiction process, vaping risks, and the benefits of quitting. Participants meet one-on-one with a certified tobacco treatment specialist for an assessment and an individualized plan to help them quit, and then attend weekly group meetings for support and professional guidance.
4-week program: Feb. 4-25, 4-5 p.m.
A Time to Quit
CentraState’s ongoing “A Time to Quit” program offers similar individualized guidance and group support for adults who smoke or vape.
6-week program: Feb. 4-Mar. 10, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Symptoms of EVALI
Shortness of breath