Is Vaping Causing an Increase in Lung Disease?

Rachel Spinella
Features Editor

As technology has advanced, so have the tobacco companies, creating a new kind of product that has taken cigarettes to the next level. The product is known by many different names, ‘e-cigs’, ‘e-hookahs’, ‘mods’, ‘vape pens’, ‘vapes’, ‘tank systems’ and ‘electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)’. Known primarily as E-cigarettes (an electronic cigarette), these devices come in many shapes and sizes with most having battery power, a heating element and a place to hold a flavored form of nicotine. 

E-cigarettes produce aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine; an addictive drug that is found in regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. E-cigarette users inhale this chemical (aerosol) into their lungs similarly to smoking a cigarette.  In fact, aerosol contains nicotine flavoring, such as diacetyl (a chemical that is linked to lung disease) along with heavy metals like nickel, tin and lead. 

The purpose of the e-cigarettes was to help smokers quit smoking, however that doesn’t seem to be the  only reason for its popularity. Since 2018, the statistics or high school students who were vaping had risen significantly. A survey conducted in 2018 by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, showed that  high school seniors using vaping devices in just a single year had risen from 27.8 percent in 2017 to 37.3 percent in the past 12 months of 2018. 

There are many potential risks involved when teens or young adults are exposed to nicotine as it can cause harm to adolescents brain development, which continues to develop until about 25 years of age. 

According to the CDC, each time a new memory is created or a new skill is developed, strong connections or synapses are built between brain cells. That being said, young people build synapses faster than adult brains can. However, with the use of nicotine it changes the way that these synapses are built or formed in the brain. 

Nicotine along with other chemicals that are found in vaping, are also harmful to the lungs. And the young adults or teens that become users of the e-cigarettes are more than likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. 

Why is this such a big topic right now? Recently the New York Times reported a rise in lung disease and other illnesses all connected to vaping.  Around 450 cases have been reported in just 33 states along with several reported deaths. The Indiana Department of Health informed the public of a third death on Friday. Not even hours later, Minnosota also confirmed that a fourth person had also died in Indiana. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states their belief that there is some sort of ‘chemical’ involved that is the cause, unfortunately they have not had any luck identifying a single responsible “device, product or substance,” as the cause for the mysterious lung illnesses, Dr. Meaney Delman told the New York Times. 

The first case of lung illness came in back in April, implying that the syndrome emerged earlier than mid June when federal officials had claimed as the time these cases began. Dr. Jenifer Layden, the chief medical officer state epidemiologist for the Illinois Department of Public Health, disclosed some information about the first case stating, “-healthy, young with a median age of 19 years and a majority have been men,” 

A journal article about Illinois and Wisconsin patients said, “98 percent were hospitalized, half required admission to the intensive care unit and a third had so much trouble breathing that they need to be placed on ventilators.” 

The New York Times reported that around 84 percent had vaped a product that included THC, the high-inducing chemical that is found in marijuna. The majority of them had also used a ‘nicotine-based product’ as well, according to Dr. Layden. 

Los Angeles health officials stated on Friday that they had been investigating over a dozen reports of lung illnesses connected to vaping, including one death. The patient who had died had been an older adult that had chronic underlying health issues. 

Doctors are advising against vaping at this time, one stating, “If you don’t have to vape, don’t do it right now.” Dr. Davis continued. “It’s wise to stay away from this until we understand what the implications are.” 

Two other people were reported to have died with the same illness, one in Oregon and the other in Illinois.  Patients that have come to the emergency room, “with shortness of breath after several days of having flu-like symptoms” with many cases including high fever. 

In severe cases like the one in Utah, a 21-year-old man had severe lung damage, so severe that even a ventilator could not provide enough for him to breathe. Due to this, doctors had to hook him up to a machine, “that pumped oxygen directly into his bloodstream to keep him alive. The fluid from his lungs contained white blood cells, full of fat and not from substances that he had vaped, but perhaps a sort of debris from the breakdown of his lung tissue.”

Luckily the patient survived, but many doctors are still concerned and alarmed due to how many similar cases have appeared recently. 

According to the New York Times, 34 people have become ill in the state of New York that had been announced on Thursday and that, “vaping samples from eight of it’s cases showed high levels of compounds called vitamin E acetate.” The investigation appears to be ongoing as investigators continue to focus on the possibility that the oily substance could be a key factor that may play a role in the mystery illness.  

As of right now though, more than 100 vaping samples are being examined by the federal government although nothing has been found in the products that link to vitamin E acetate. Still, the chemicals found in vaping remain a possible cause for the sudden lung illnesses that are appearing in the states. 

If you are interested in learning more about the harmful effects that vaping have on people visit the CDC website for more information. 

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