Recently, over 500 hundred people, many of them teens, have been hospitalized for severe respiratory problems that are attributed to vaping either nicotine or THC oil, a marijuana derivative. Teens are particularly influenced by social media and advertising that pushes the latest trends. Companies promoting products take advantage of that. E-cigarettes are a 2.5-billion-dollar business in the U.S. Annually the e-cigarette industry spends more than $125 million to advertise their products, with ads that portray the type of sexual content, excitement and consumer satisfaction that appeals. Many of those advertisements are targeted to teens.
Data released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in mid-September 2019 when the vaping crisis received public notice indicated there were over 500 cases of lung illness reported from 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Seven deaths were confirmed at that time, with more expected. All reported cases have a history of e-cigarette product use or vaping. Most patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC; many patients reported using THC and nicotine; some reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.
A report that the CDC released before the vaping crisis emerged indicated that e-cigarette use went up among middle and high school students from 2011 – 2018: with nearly 1 of every 20 middle school students (4.9%) reporting in 2018 that they used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days—an increase from 0.6% in 2011. In the high schools nearly 1 out of 5 students (20.8%) reported in 2018 that they had used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days—an increase from 1.5% in 2011.
The data also revealed the following:
1. Almost 50% of high school seniors have abused a drug of some kind.
2. By 8th grade 15% of kids have used marijuana.
3. 43% of high school seniors have used marijuana.
4. 8.6% of 12th graders have used hallucinogens – 4% report on using LSD specifically.
5. Over 60% of teens report that drugs of some kind are kept, sold, and used at their school.
6. 1 in every 9 high school seniors has tried synthetic marijuana (also known as “Spice” or “K2”).
7. 64% of teens say they have used prescription pain killers that they got from a friend or family member.
8. 28% of teens know at least 1 person who has tried ecstasy.
Responding to the recent hospitalizations and deaths, the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners are investigating multistate outbreaks of severe pulmonary disease associated with e-cigarette product use (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges). This investigation is ongoing, and although researchers have not identified a specific cause, all reported cases have a history of using e-cigarette products. Based on available information, the disease is likely caused by an unknown chemical exposure. No single product or substance is conclusively linked to the disease at this time.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that among their 12 confirmed and 14 suspected cases of vaping-related illness, including severe lung damage in people who reported recent vaping or “dabbing,” (which is vaping marijuana oils, extracts or concentrates), symptoms ranged from cough, chest pain and shortness of breath to fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. David D. Gummin MD, Medical Director of the Wisconsin Poison Center, and professor and chief of medical toxicology at the Medical College of Wisconsin stated in the New York Times recently, “We have no leads pointing to a specific substance other than those that are associated with smoking or vaping,but we know the common element among all of those hospitalized was either vaping or dabbing (using an e-cigarette to inhale marijuana)”
E-cigarettes (vapes) appeared in the US about 10 years ago. They are an electronic nicotine delivery system consisting of a cartridge containing a liquid, an atomizer (vaporization chamber with a heating element), and a battery. Their initial purpose was to help people stop smoking. Unfortunately, they have become extremely popular among teens, who are using them to inhale everything from actual nicotine to various flavored juices and synthetics.
Over the past few months scientific studies have produced evidence that vaping can pose many risks. The vapes affect the body’s immunity and produce “smoker’s cough” and bloody sores that have begun showing up among teen vapers. The hotter a vaped liquid gets, the harsher its effects on human cells. A relatively new vaping behavior called “dripping” increases the heat and thus the side effects. Some data even suggest that e-cigarette vaped liquids may contain cancer-causing chemicals and produce seizures. Mark Rubinstein MD, a professor of pediatrics with the University of California, San Francisco, reported findings of a recent research study where urine tests conducted on teen patients who are using vapes indicated elevated levels of five different toxins which are known or suspected carcinogens. All of the toxins belong to a class of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Volatile organic compounds are released when e-cigarette liquid is heated to the point when it becomes vapor,” Rubinstein said. “The liquid contains solvents that are approved food additives, but when heated these additives can form other chemical compounds, including VOCs,” he said.
Public agencies, schools, colleges clinicians and healthcare institutions are banding together to head off what they fear could be a vaping epidemic, urging everyone to discontinue their use until further evidence is available. However, enforcing these recommendations is neatly impossible, particularly among teens, who believe that they are immortal and keep using substances that pose a danger to their health. Promotion and advertising of these products is definitively part of the problem, particularly on social media where teens they spend so much of their time. In our capitalist society we have few restrictions on what, how or to whom companies can advertise their products via the public media which includes print, video, television, and online. Nor do we want to take away the rights of a free society that guarantees to everyone through the First Amendment, freedom of speech. However, when we see the consequences of blatant promotion of addictive and dangerous substances targeted to our young people, many of whom who do not have enough life experience to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil, we must pause and ask ourselves, where do we draw the line in the sand?