Vaping – what you can’t see can hurt you

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by Anne Nederveld

My oldest child is starting high school in the fall, and so naturally I am beginning to think about things that she’ll face in this new environment. I‘ve recently heard a lot about vaping at area high schools, and specifically about “Juuling.” As a health care provider, I have been encouraged by ever-decreasing smoking rates over the past few decades. So this new trend is disturbing as there is evidence that many kids that start with e-cigarettes transition to traditional cigarettes or other tobacco products such as chewing tobacco. There is also no data that vaping is any safer than cigarettes or chewing tobacco and is just as habit-forming. However, it seems that many people do not understand this and believe the tobacco industry’s propaganda that e-cigarettes can be used as a smoking cessation tool. The tobacco industry and manufacturers of vaping devices (often the same people) assert that they are not targeting kids with e-cigarettes, but then create products with flavors such as mango or cotton candy.

I didn’t feel that I knew that much about vaping so decided to do a bit of poking around. As far as health effects, because vaping is relatively new with regards to being able to identify health impacts, evidence is somewhat limited. However, there is evidence that vaping can cause short-term respiratory problems (similar to asthma), increased blood pressure, and increased heart rate similar to traditional cigarettes. Also, there is evidence that vaping may be related to some cases of “popcorn lung,” an irreversible lung condition that was first identified among workers at microwave popcorn factories. This would make sense as when someone “vapes,” they are not really inhaling vapor, but an aerosol that contains many chemicals, including propylene glycol, glycerin, toxicants, heavy metals, and carcinogens. In addition, almost all vape juice contains nicotine, although studies show that 63% of kids are not aware that nicotine is one of the ingredients.

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I spoke with a district principal about vaping and learned that it is very hard to detect and enforce. Vaping is illegal on any school campus due to the Tobacco-Free Schools Law, which prohibits the use of any tobacco product or nicotine-containing product on school campuses. This principal said that kids often don’t realize that vaping is included in this prohibition and that it is illegal on a federal level. Additionally, many of the vape devices look like other things – jump drives, mint boxes, lighters and even the end of a sweatshirt drawstring! Some advice I heard given to teachers at a recent conference was to try to limit back-turning so kids can’t vape as easily in class!

For more information about vaping/Juuling, click here.

Are we really going to let the tobacco industry hijack another generation?? I think this is an issue we need to address head-on and also enlist the voices of youth. To me, the tobacco industry is clearly attempting to hold on to profits that they were losing with declining smoking rates. I think if kids understood that they are being manipulated and their health is likely being compromised for someone else’s profit, they might be less likely to see vaping as cool and trendy. I’d love to hear from others who are interested in working collaboratively to address this problem. If that’s you, please contact me at andrea.nederveld@ucdenver.edu

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