The Doctor is In

By Damon Raskin, M.D. | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Q:With widespread reporting on a few instances of vaping-related illnesses and deaths, how bad is it really? Should we all be throwing them away or are they still safe to use?

I often start my column with some witty quote, joke or pun. But I can’t think of anything funny about lung damage and death. This topic is just too serious!

Throw away your vape pens right now. And go speak to your kids and teens about the dangers of vaping in case they have been living under a rock the last few weeks.

And keep asking them if they are using e-cigarettes even if they first deny it. A recent survey revealed that one in four high school seniors reported using nicotine e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. They can be tricky to find, as most can be small enough to resemble a USB thumb drive.

Just last week, the CDC reported there were 530 vaping-related cases of severe lung disease since April of 2019 in 38 states, including as many as eight deaths related to vaping.

Unfortunately, there has not been a particular cause of the illnesses found, and scientists are looking at all kinds of substances in the vaping liquid. Several cases have been linked to “juice” cartridges containing synthetic vitamin E oil, but health officials don’t think that any one additive alone is the whole answer.

E-cigarette fluid has been shown to contain at least six groups of potentially toxic compounds, and no one knows what happens when you mix them up together and heat them to over 200 degrees.

The bigger problem is that the companies who make these vaping products have promoted them as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. They have clearly been marketing them to our youth with delicious sounding vape flavors like mango, bubble gum and cotton candy.

And, it is these young patients who seem to be the ones getting these mysterious pulmonary illnesses. Most of the illnesses have been reported in males with the average age of 19.

In fact, my daughter’s high school principal just emailed all of the parents a letter that there will be no tolerance for e-cigarettes in the school, and that violators would be dealt with severely.

There is still a lot we don’t know about the short- and long-term effects of using these e-cigarette products, mostly because they have not been on the market long enough. Some diseases like COPD may take years or decades to manifest. But we need to start doing something about this epidemic now, even if we don’t have all the answers.

Science has shown clearly that the nicotine alone, despite the way it is ingested, is harmful to adolescent brains, which do not fully form until at least the age of 26.

Nicotine changes the synapses, or nerve connections, in the forming brain, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning. This can also lead to mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control.

Although the makers of Juul and other devices have promoted them to help smokers quit, the exact opposite can happen. Some studies have shown that many young smokers of e-cigarettes go on to become regular cigarette smokers.

And I do not need to remind you about those health dangers. There is also the concern about exposure to “second hand” vapor exposure, but we just don’t have all the research available yet. But it can definitely be unnerving when you pull up to a car at a stoplight and a cloud-like plume of vapor rushes out of the window of a car filled with teenagers.

Finally, I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the possibility of the risk of e-cigarette batteries that have been known to cause fires and explosions when these batteries are being charged.

Just one more reason to throw that vape away now … before you throw your health away.