Vaping: It’s far from a harmless habit

Vaping: It’s far from a harmless habit

In a 2018 national survey, more than 44,000 students — or about 37% of 12th-graders — reported vaping, compared with 28% in 2017, according to the National Institutes of Health.


In a 2018 national survey, more than 44,000 students — or about 37% of 12th-graders — reported vaping, compared with 28% in 2017, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In vaping a battery-powered device called an e-cigarette heats a liquid into a vapor that can be inhaled. The vapor may contain nicotine (the addictive drug found in tobacco), flavoring and other chemicals. E-cigarettes also can be used with marijuana, hash oil or other substances.

Vaping may pose serious and avoidable health risks.

Exposure to nicotine during youth can lead to addiction and cause long-term harm to brain development. The vapor can contain toxins including ones that cause cancer and tiny particles that are harmful when breathed in.

Humberto Choi, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care physician with the Cleveland Clinic, sees firsthand the effects of vaping in his patients.

“Because there’s no smoke, no tar, this has been advertised as a safe alternative to smoking,” Choi said. “But it’s not.”

Choi said the effects of vaping might not be seen immediately in medical examinations. “Vaping has not been around all that long, so we still don’t have all the science in place yet,” he said.

But Choi said one group of people may develop acute inflammation in the lungs, which may present as pneumonia or bronchitis.

These symptoms also may make it hard for a physician to differentiate it from the symptoms of COVID-19.

“The imaging pattern and clinical presentation can be very similar,” Choi said.

Choi said just how people may experience the effects of vaping varies. “Some people will have relatively mild symptoms like throat irritation or a mild cough while the most serious cases might even require mechanical ventilation,” he said.

A wrinkle posed by vaping is that it can be manipulated by users with changes to flavors or, more seriously, by adapting the devices to vape THC (the active ingredient in marijuana).

“Some young people might produce their own liquid with cannabis products. This is a dangerous, unregulated exposure to various chemical pollutants,” Choi said.

Choi said parents need to have open, nonjudgmental discussions with their children in light of this trend.

“It’s important to keep in mind that lots of young adults are experiencing other problems that might be playing a part in their vaping habit,” Choi said. “These might include depression or anxiety, things that are nowadays not too uncommon, and that behavioral therapy is proven to help.”

Nate Steiner, associate principal at Wooster High School, said trends seem to be more positive at the school in the last couple years.

“Since the government cracked down by eliminating kid-friendly flavors and doing positive influencing on social media such as Instagram, it seems to be on a moderate decline,” Steiner said.

Steiner said the school has taken a variety of approaches to control the vaping phenomenon. “We didn’t look at it as just a discipline issue,” he said. “We collaborated with community resources like Anazao to make sure the students were truly getting educated and any behavioral health attention they might have needed.”

Steiner said the school also was proactive in helping parents with regard to the trend. “We had information and resources in place for our parents so they could get out in front of it,” he said. “But it does continue to be a concern, so we have not let up on our efforts.”

The American Lung Association said, “A new generation is at risk for irreversible lung damage and disease as a result of e-cigarettes. These have been around now for nearly a decade and are showing no signs of disappearing. Just as troubling is that many people view these electronic nicotine delivery systems (also referred to as ENDS) as harmless.”

Despite the fact more research is needed, there is ample evidence implying the immediate health risks vaping brings.

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