Vaping-related lung injuries, deaths, and a state ban have all been in the news recently, but with things moving so quickly, it’s good to share an overview of what we know, and what we still don’t.
The most important thing to understand is that vaping is not safe for anyone.
On a national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating many potential cases of severe lung injury. The term “injury” is used instead of disease because the problems people are having are not contagious.
The CDC reports the latest outbreak information every Thursday at: www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html#latest-outbreak-information. As of this writing, there have been nearly 1,900 cases identified in all but one state (Alaska), and 34 deaths confirmed in 24 states. Among the injured patients the CDC has data for, 70 percent are male. Patient ages range from 13 to 75 years old, with 79 percent under 35 years old.
In Washington state, five counties have reported a total of 12 cases of vaping associated lung injury since April 2019. So far, none have been reported in Lewis County. Males comprised 58 percent of the total. Four persons were between ages 10 to 19, six were between 20 and 39, and two were aged 40-49. At this time, there have been no deaths in Washington. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is actively investigating every reported injury case. It maintains current information on vaping-related injuries at: www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/VapingAssociatedLungInjury.
At this time, the cause or causes of the lung injuries in these cases have not been identified. The only commonality among all cases is that patients report the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products. Investigations are ongoing.
However, we do know that vape aerosol is not harmless. It is not “just water vapor.” It can contain harmful substances such as nicotine, heavy metals (like tin, lead), volatile organic compounds, and ultra fine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.
The vapor may also contain a number of toxic substances including formaldehyde, which is a chemical used to preserve dead bodies. In addition, for children especially, being exposed to vaping liquid can cause nicotine poisoning.
We also know that the nicotine levels in many of the vaping products are significant. While this may help some smokers leave traditional cigarettes behind, there is concern that vaping has hooked a whole new generation on this highly addictive chemical.
Vaping products have been marketed heavily to kids through advertising with bright colors, candy-flavors, and labels that look like labels from other familiar kids’ foods. In addition, the vaping product design (like the one that looks like a small thumb drive and emits no smoke), makes some difficult to identify and is marketed as a way to avoid parental oversight.
In October the Washington State Board of Health passed an emergency rule on vapor products and flavors which will be in effect for 120 days. This rule bans the sale of flavored vapor products, including flavored THC vapor products, requires non-marijuana vapor product retailers to display a sign warning of the risk of lung disease associated with the use of vapor products, and requires reporting of cases of lung injury associated with the use of vapor products from health care providers and health care facilities.
To be clear, there is no safe tobacco product and the use of any tobacco replacement product, including e-cigarettes, carries risk. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that people not use vape products containing THC.
For people who currently vape, quitting is possible! Although nicotine is addictive, having a plan and a support network in place can help. The most important thing is not to give up. According to smokefree.gov, it usually takes between five and seven tries to quit.
There are resources available to help, but a good place to start is to talk to your healthcare provider. You can also call the tobacco quit line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW, visit www.smokefree.gov/everytrycounts/ for more ideas and resources, or get cessation support through the 2Morrow smartphone app.