Vaping Epidemic

The Curious Case of the Vaping Epidemic

Vaping is a common practice amongst many of the youth and adults in America. Previously, this habit was thought to be safe. Individuals believed that using a vape was harmless. But, currently, a lot of individuals are questioning this idea. People have especially started to wonder since there have been cases of illness and even death where vaping was believed to be a cause. Most people don’t think of regular vape use as a form of addiction. But, can it be problematic?

If you regularly use a vape, you may be wondering if you should continue to do so. After all, the thought of becoming ill or losing your life due to this habit is enough to concern anyone. No doubt, you’ve heard about various studies and concerns regarding vaping. But, maybe you’re still a little unsure about what you should do. We can help you here at Northbound Treatment Services!

It Has Been Officially Declared an Epidemic 

United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams has issued an advisory regarding the dangers of electronic cigarette use among U.S. teenagers. “I am officially declaring e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States”. Treatment for vaping is now very real. 

He calls on parents and teachers to talk with children about the dangers of vaping. He also calls for health professionals to ask about e-cigarette use during health screenings. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “We have never seen the use of any substance by America’s young people rise this rapidly. This is an unprecedented challenge.” 

E-cigarettes entered the market around 2007 and, since 2014, have been the most commonly used tobacco product among American youth. In fact, more high school students use e-cigarettes than adults.

According to the CDC, there have been over a thousand lung issues related to e-cigarette use. In fact, as of October 8, 2019, 1,299 lung injury cases have been reported from 49 states, DC and one territory. Also 26 deaths have been reported in 21 states. All patients reported a history of using e-cigarettes or vaping products.

Most patients reported a history of using THC containing products. Therefore, the CDC recommends that you should not use vaping products that contain THC. Some patients reported exclusively using products containing only nicotine and many reported using a combination. In short, the CDC advises against vaping product use, particularly for pregnant women and teens.                                                                               

Yet, vaping among middle and high school students increased 900 percent from 2011-2015. In 2018, more than 3.6 million US. youth, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students used e-cigarettes.  A huge problem is that many young people believe vaping is basically harmless. Often, users are unaware that e-cigarettes even contain nicotine. 

What are E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce a vapor of small particles in the air. They come in many shapes and sizes. Some look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. People often use the following terms for e-cigarettes:

  • e-cigs
  • e-hookahs
  • mods
  • vape pens
  • vapes

Using an e-cig is sometimes called “vaping” or “JUULing”.  JUUL is a brand of e-cigarette that contains a high level of nicotine. 

E-cigarettes produce vapor by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that help create the vapor. This liquid is sometimes called “e-juice,” “vape-juice,” “pods” or “cartridges”.  Most vape liquids contain a combination of propylene glycol and glycerin as a base, and nicotine, marijuana or flavoring chemicals to produce common and uncommon flavors like “unicorn puke.”  

The nicotine or THC is mixed with solvents that dissolve and deliver the drugs. The solvents, or oils, heat up and become vapor. But some oil droplets may be leftover and cool back down. Inhaling those drops may cause breathing problems and lung inflammation and could result in death.

But Aren’t E-Cigarettes Safe? 

The American Lung Association has warned that “e-cigarettes are not safe” and can cause irreversible lung damage.  The American Medical Association recommends anyone who has recently used e-cigarette products to seek medical care promptly if they experience shortness of breath or chest pain.

E-cigarettes arrived in the U.S. market in 2007and have been investigated by addiction researchers as a method to help adults quit smoking regular cigarettes. E-cigarettes contain fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes and were presented as a safer alternative.  But vape liquids can still contain nicotine, a very addictive drug. Yale health researchers who study the health effects of vaping have found that vape devices have not been proven to help adult smokers quit smoking.  

A study of 70,000 users found that vaping nicotine still doubles the risk of heart attack over not vaping at all. Many people who vape to stop smoking actually end up doing both which multiplies their chance of a heart attack by five!  When you think about it, they are not really trying to quit smoking. They are only vaping because they are not permitted to smoke regular cigarettes.

Exploding Cigarettes 

Regulatory and public health agencies are looking into three different public health-related problems:

  • Exploding e-cigarettes
  • Seizures
  • Lung injuries

Exploding cigarettes have shattered peoples’ jaws. The probable cause appears to be battery-related issues. A study published in the journal Tobacco Control found that emergency rooms saw “an estimated 2035 e-cigarette explosion and burn injuries” from 2015 to 2017.

One reason the FDA is looking into the data on the seizures is that seizures have been linked to nicotine poisoning in the past. The investigation is ongoing.

Lung injuries are a different thing.  The CDC has identified 1080 probable cases of these injuries. Based on early data, 70% of patients with the condition are male and 80% of patients are under 35.

Is Vaping with E-Cigs Considered a Gateway drug?  

Although the idea of a gateway drug has been largely disproven, there is evidence that vaping increases the risk that a teen will smoke regular cigarettes later.  A 2015 study shows that, for 2000 adults who stopped smoking by using e-cigarettes, over 160,000 teens and young adults made the transition in the opposite direction. 

And addiction to nicotine in an e-cig is the same as an addiction to traditional cigarettes. Anyone who has successfully quit smoking will tell you it is not easy. You might even find there is an underlying cause for your addiction. 

The manufacturer JUUL has marketed its e-cigarettes as modified risk tobacco products: ninety-nine percent safer than cigarettes or totally safe. The FDA has issued JUUL a warning letter but JUUL maintains that its products are intended to convert adult smokers to a less harmful alternative.

JUUL’s sleek designs have made it the most popular e-cig among high school students. One pod of the JUUL liquid contains the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes. Young people who used products with high concentrations of nicotine are more likely to keep smoking and vaping later.

Still No Identified Cause

At this time the FDA and CDC have not identified a cause for the lung injuries, only that all the patients were users of vaping or e-cigarette products. Physicians across the country are treating patients with mysterious life-threatening vaping related illnesses. Otherwise healthy patients in their late teens and 20s are showing up with severe shortness of breath often after suffering for several days and vomiting. Some wind up in intensive care or on a ventilator for weeks.

Researchers are trying to determine whether a particular toxin has gotten into the supply of products, whether some people are reusing contaminated cartridges or whether the epidemic is linked to heavy e-cigarette use. CDC issued a warning to teenagers and other consumers to stop buying bootleg and street cannabis and e-cigarette products.

Many of the vaping ingredients are not listed on the products. Vitamin E oil seems to be a common substance associated with severe and sudden respiratory problems. However, it is not known how it was used. It is sometimes used in cannabidiol which is not designed for vaping but is sometimes used that way. According to former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, it is possibly something new that has been introduced into the market by an illegal manufacturer. So the mystery continues.

What is Popcorn Lung?

The medical term is “bronchiolitis obliterans”.  It results from exposure to different chemicals that cause inflammation and obstruction of the smallest passages in the lungs. The specific chemical associated with popcorn lung is diacetyl. This is a food additive that was used to make popcorn taste buttery without butter. Popcorn lung was first diagnosed in the popcorn factory’s workers.

One of the problems in diagnosing it is that the symptoms look like other lung diseases like asthma. Popcorn lung symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Dry cough
  • Exhaustion

Most high-end vape makers don’t use diacetyl, but in 2015, more than half of the mass-marketed e-cigarettes were found to contain the chemical. The flavored vape juices were especially found to contain diacetyl because it enhances the flavors. And because it is found primarily in flavored liquids, it is more appealing to teenagers. This is a double whammy of more exposure to the chemical and increased risk of popcorn lung in young people.

Is Vaping a Drug?

No, vaping is not a drug. It is a drug delivery system. Just like smoking, drinking or injecting. A vape pen can deliver any substance that can be suspended in a vape liquid. Usually, it’s nicotine, but could easily be THC, opioids or synthetic designer drugs like MDMA.  

A study at Virginia Commonwealth University is looking into the dangers of recreational drug use with the vape. You knew this had to be the next thing. E-juice containing heroin and morphine are now available on the Dark Web.

Is It Safe to Vape Without Nicotine?

As far as we know, high-quality e-juice with a well-designed vape pen and no nicotine is safe for you. You’re just inhaling vaporized glycerin and flavorings. However, that’s only true of the high-end connoisseur vaping. 

There are still concerns when it comes to cheaper products like gas station e-cigs. Most vape liquid uses propylene glycol, a completely harmless chemical. But cheap mass-market vapes have been found to contain diethylene glycol, a poisonous industrial solvent.  Although the FDA has the approval to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping, there is not much regulation taking place. In mass-market e-cigs made in foreign countries, there is even less regulation. 

Will Vaping Bans Work?

Well, banning alcohol, marijuana and cocaine can hardly be called a success. If you want to curtail youth vaping, putting a ban on the flavors might help. But that won’t help with the lung injuries. It could also send smokers back to the use of traditional cigarettes. It’s hard to know what a total ban might do with regard to lung injuries. That’s mainly because we know so little about the injuries.

As with Prohibition, makers will find ways to get around the regulations in creating their liquids. Teens will keep finding ways to get their nicotine and/or THC high. Age restrictions earlier this year sent individuals to eBay and Alibaba to buy knock-off pods, vapes, and cigarettes.

Also, a ban on vaping won’t help with lung injuries. Again, it could also cause people to revert to using traditional cigarettes, which would be a major problem. This epidemic is relatively new and long term results are not known. Ten years after a smoker quits, the lung damage can be completely reversed. This is what makes vaping so curious.

What Should I Do Now?

To put it simply, you should quit vaping, but that is easier said than done. If you’re having difficulty kicking an addiction to vaping, you need help now. Lung damage from e-cigarettes happens fast. Don’t wait until you have chest pains and shortness of breath to take it seriously. 

At Northbound Treatment, you will find a dedicated team focused on the treatment and transformation of individuals. Most of our staff have overcome addiction themselves, and have firsthand knowledge of what you are going through. Call us at 844-919-0403. Or you can reach out to us here. 

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm

www.surgeongeneral.gov

www.nytimes.com

www.yalemedicine.org

www.npr.org

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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