The dangers associated with vaping have grown over the years as researchers identify more and more toxins that are inhaled with each puff.1 This affects both users and bystanders. Although the industry advertises vaping as a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes, the industry standard for “safer” is likely not safe.
Compared to combustible cigarettes with thousands of chemicals, 70 of which are known carcinogens,2 vaping may seem safer since the product contains fewer toxins. There is more to consider, however. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine3 found “there is conclusive evidence that in addition to nicotine, most e-cigarette products contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances.”
When the products first came on the market, they were not immediately regulated by the FDA, and it was only a few years ago that they were added to the category of tobacco products.4 As a result, the industry grew at an alarming rate5 without undergoing any review process to assess safety.
In the last decade, researchers have found that flavors in vape juice damage the cardiovascular system6 and deliver an appalling amount of heavy metals.7 In one study, researchers found that 81% of the cartridges they tested contained evidence of fungi.8 Exposure to this impurity is associated with asthma and a reduction in lung function.9
Researchers from another study found that those who regularly smoke e-cigarettes may suffer from impaired activity of macrophages in the lungs, leading them to conclude it may damage vital immune cells.10 Most recently, there have been reports of an outbreak of a mysterious pulmonary disease affecting otherwise healthy individuals.11
The outbreak has affected individuals in 22 states and the number is growing quickly. However, while reports are coming in to health departments across the country, a number of physicians have described earlier cases that were not reported or included in the count.12
Rising Number of Young Adults Suffer From Chemical Pneumonia
On August 23, 2019, the CDC13 reported 193 possible instances of lung illness linked to the use of e-cigarettes. By September 1, 2019, NBC News14 found that health departments in 50 states had reported 298 cases.
CNN15 reported that the city of Milwaukee warned citizens to stop vaping immediately after 16 people were admitted into the hospital with chemical pneumonia. The Milwaukee health department said that each person told them they were vaping THC products before being hospitalized. The number grew to 32 cases of lung disease, which health officials said were under investigation.
However, not all who were hospitalized with chemical pneumonia had been vaping THC products. Officials in Milwaukee16 warned that the link between respiratory illness and e-cigarettes was not fully understood. They proposed that residents would be safer to stop using all vape and e-cigarette products until the toxin could be identified.
At a press conference, Rep. Diana DeGette,17 D-Colorado, noted her state is the most popular for teen vaping.18 Colorado law also allows for the recreational use of marijuana.19 It would stand to reason that if THC was the only offending agent, and teens in Colorado vaped more than any other state, there would be more reported cases than the two that are currently under investigation.20
Health officials believe an individual from Illinois has been the first to die21 from the illness that has only recently been reported. This may mean that the number affected and who have died is higher than what is currently known. The individuals who have suffered from this condition may be left with severe lung injuries that last a lifetime.22
Watch for These Symptoms and Seek Immediate Medical Care
The father of a 20-year-old man from southeastern Wisconsin spoke to reporters about his son’s experience. The young man was a former high school athlete. His father said,23 “Last Wednesday, he was doing 25 to 30 pullups a day. And on Friday, there’s talk of him being intubated. That’s how quick it goes.” When speaking to reporters the young man said:24
“I was in so much pain. I could barely breathe. I was feeling like I was going to die, honestly. The doctors are saying how lucky I am to be given another opportunity. My CAT scan looked like a 70-year-old’s lungs. That’s what they said to me.”
Physicians and federal officials don’t have a standardized method to report and track the condition. As reported by NBC News,25 some states have only recently sent alerts to health care providers with information to identify lung diseases related to vaping.
Cases across the country include those from teens to middle-aged adults who are sick with symptoms including coughing, fatigue and shortness of breath.26 Some require ventilation in an intensive care unit to support their respiratory system. Chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, Dr. Albert Rizzo, believes there is a commonality with individuals vaping, but it has not yet been linked to any specific device or chemical.27
Tests are showing the condition is not related to an infection and does not respond to antibiotics.28 In many cases, individuals are reporting symptoms that have come on gradually, including difficulty breathing, chest pain and shortness of breath. Others have reported vomiting, diarrhea, fevers and fatigue.29
A Chemistry Experiment Every Time You Inhale
For Maddie Nelson of Nephi, Utah, her symptoms developed over several months. She was diagnosed with eosinophilic pneumonia and placed in a medically-induced coma. Although she is on the road to recovery, she still needs oxygen support overnight.30
Dr. Robin Deterding is chief of pediatric pulmonary medicine at Children’s Hospital in Colorado. In a news conference she talked about the condition and the probable history:31
“We believe, looking back through our cases, that we probably have seen this in the past. I think we’re going to learn that different variations and degrees of these conditions have been present before. We’ve actually seen some of these biopsies, and they look different … based upon what inhalant is coming into the lungs. When you heat a substance, you release chemicals. This is a chemistry experiment that you keep inhaling.”
Doctors believe there have been warning signs that vaping is hazardous to your health, but without a standardized method of reporting conditions, it seems to have fallen through the cracks. Kaiser Health News32 reports that it was about two years ago when Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander of the University of California-San Diego saw this for the first time.
She suspected a link to vaping but did not report it as there was no pathway for doing so. Mounting evidence points to significant dangers behind vaping and the risks associated with each use. Dr. John Parker of West Virginia University said it was in 2015 that he first saw a patient with pneumonia related to vaping.33
Unfortunately, the risks are only now becoming more publicized. While Juul recommends consumers do their own research on products,34 many of the ingredients in their vape juice are protected as trade secrets.35,36 In more ways than one, vaping does in fact becomes a chemistry experiment you undertake with your own life.
Vaping Industry Continues to Target Teens
Despite growing documentation of the dangers of inhaling the chemical cocktail in vape juice, which teenagers find enticing because of the flavors, the vaping industry insists the product is safe to use and is not aimed at teen users. JUUL Labs, who owns 76% of the market share,37 has said publicly that vaping should be limited to adults who want to quit smoking.38
This claim is called into question, however, as flavors, colors and packaging are considered attractive to teens, who also may be drawn in when told they shouldn’t vape. In testimony before Congress, 17-year-old Caleb Mintz stated that a representative was at his school as part of a mental health seminar where teachers were not present. At just 17, Mintz cut to the chase on Juul’s marketing tactics:39
“I believe the presenter was sending mixed messages by saying Juul was ‘totally safe’ and following up every totally safe statement with ‘but we don’t want you as customers.’ I believe that the presenter was playing on the rebellious side of teens, where when teens are told not to do something, they are more likely to do it.”
Internally,40 Juul maintained a division to present school programs. They put into place a sophisticated social media campaign to promote their product online to young people.41 Documents obtained by the subcommittee show Juul hired a group to find 280 influencers in the Los Angeles and New York area42 “to seed Juul product to over the course of three months.”
In a second contract Juul sought to secure social media influencers with at least 30,000 followers to attend launch events and establish a network to leverage their influence.43 Each puff from a Juul delivers more nicotine than other e-cigarettes.44 Their products also involve patented JuulSalts technology45 to reduce throat discomfort.
This combination of strategies specifically addresses vulnerabilities in the teen population, making them a target to build a new consumer base as the number of those using traditional cigarettes declines.46
What Are Your Options?
Addiction at a young age leaves teens with no good treatment options for quitting. This is because the product is specifically designed to increase users’ risk of becoming addicted. Children as young as 11 have become addicted, and medical science has yet to come up with a treatment option that is safe at their age.
In addition to a problem with treatment, teens and young adults are suffering from respiratory conditions related to the habit. As Milwaukee urges residents to stop vaping,47 the CDC48 and FDA49 recommend, among other actions, that people “consider refraining” while they investigate.
If you are addicted to cigarettes or e-cigarettes and would like to take control of your health and quit the habit, I suggest my previous article, “Quitting Smoking Starts in the Brain,” to learn a free technique that may make the process easier. Take the power out of the tobacco and vaping industry’s hands and put it back into yours.