Editor’s Note: The CDC issued a statement TODAY (8/30/19) as part of their investigation into the multistate outbreak of severe pulmonary disease associated with using e-cigarette products (devices, liquids, refill pods, and cartridges.) See below:
Regardless of the ongoing investigation, e-cigarette products should not be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women, as well as adults who do not currently use tobacco products. If you use e-cigarette products, monitor yourself for symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chest pain) and promptly seek medical attention if you have concerns about your health.
Living in a town with a large university, I see a lot of vaping. Or rather, I smell a lot of it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been walking around town and walked through an invisible plume of watermelon or cotton candy smell. Unlike walking through a cloud of cigarette smoke, it’s eerily pleasant to walk by someone vaping—a truth that belies the damage being done by it.
This is Vaping
If you’ve heard of vaping but still don’t really know what it is, you’re not alone. Here’s a brief rundown:
Vaping refers to electronic cigarettes and other handheld devices that heat nicotine, flavorings, and/or other chemicals to create a vapor that you inhale. According to Johns Hopkins, vaping is healthier than standard tobacco cigarettes, which contain 7,000 chemicals (many of which are toxic).
However, “healthier” does not mean healthy.
Vaping devices sometimes contain high amounts of nicotine, which is highly addictive. While nicotine doesn’t have the lung-destroying properties of tar and other tobacco cigarette substances, it is still a toxin that raises your blood pressure, spikes adrenaline, and increases your heart rate—thereby increasing your risk of heart attack.
Marijuana can also be vaped. And even the simple, flavored water vapes contain chemicals, and doctors don’t fully know the effects of inhaling them yet.
Why Vaping is Dangeous
“People need to understand that e-cigarettes are potentially dangerous to your health,” says Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “You’re exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don’t yet understand and that are probably not safe.”
Just this summer, hundreds of people across 25 states have reported mysterious lung illnesses tied to vaping, and the first death linked to vaping was recently reported in Illinois. That spells trouble for the record numbers of teens who report vaping, which the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams has called an “epidemic.”
Unlike cigarettes, vaping can go almost completely undetected. Occasionally I actually see someone’s vaping device, but it’s usually hidden in their hand, brought up to their mouth under a closed fist, almost as if they’re stifling a cough. It can be done so discreetly, there have been multiple reports of students vaping in class.
Parents are now having to learn all kinds of new lingo and learn to look for devices they might not recognize. And according to a viral video shared by the Petrolia CISD, a school district in Clay County, Texas, vaping devices are getting even harder to spot.
The video shows three vaping devices—a “teardrop,” a Juul with a cartridge, and a completely innocuous-looking digital watch that you’d never know could be used for vaping.
The school district’s also shared on their Facebook page that there are vaping necklaces and strings that can be put into a hoodie for vaping as well—and that some places will sell these devices to kids.
As parents, it’s vital that we keep up with the latest trends and fads that can cause harm to our children. We all know that young people’s brains are still developing and they don’t always make wise choices—especially when so many of their peers are doing the same thing. I keep hearing story after story of parents who thought their kids would never try this stuff, but the pull to do so is strong.
Compared to cigarettes, a little fruit-flavored water vapor seems harmless. Kids are getting the message that it’s not that bad for you because it’s deemed a healthier alternative to smoking, and they don’t see any immediate negative effects.
As the video points out, Juul pods contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes, and some kids report vaping three of those per day. Nicotine is just as addictive in vape form as it is in cigarettes, so we have a whole generation of kids potentially becoming addicted to nicotine. As Dr Blaha points out, that addiction can eventually lead kids to smoking. In Five Truths You Need to Know About Vaping, he says,
What I find most concerning about the rise of vaping is that people who would’ve never smoked otherwise, especially youth, are taking up the habit. It’s one thing if you convert from cigarette smoking to vaping. It’s quite another thing to start up nicotine use with vaping. And, it often leads to using traditional tobacco products down the road.
Yes, there’s a twisted irony in a device designed to help people quit smoking leading kids to start smoking, but that appears to be where we’re at. Vaping is not harmless, and it’s vital that we do what we can to help our kids avoid the traps that are being set for them. A vaping necklace or digital watch are not the tools of adults trying to quit smoking, they are toys being marketed to children. Be vigilant, parents.
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Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.