Guest Opinion: The Doctor Is In: Vaping is killing people

This is a public health epidemic. Make no mistake about it.

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Guest Opinion: The Doctor Is In: Vaping is killing people

Photo Illustration by Katie Goodale

Photo Illustration by Katie Goodale

Katie Goodale

Photo Illustration by Katie Goodale

Katie Goodale

Katie Goodale

Photo Illustration by Katie Goodale

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The use of electronic cigarettes, or vaping, is strongly linked to the baffling lung diseases that have killed at least 33 people since August.

Confirmed cases of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injuries” have skyrocketed, and this crisis is showing no signs of slowing down. To date, we are totaling nearly 1,500 confirmed vaping injuries spanning 49 states, including at least 38 confirmed cases in Iowa. Of the injuries that the CDC has studied, nearly 50 percent of affected people were transferred to the intensive care unit of the hospital, and 22 percent required a mechanical breathing tube in order to stay alive while they recovered lung function.

What’s causing vaping-associated lung injuries?

Three fourths of these cases are associated with black-market vape cartridges containing THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the major “high-inducing” component of marijuana. THC cartridges are bought and sold amongst friends and from dealers, but unfortunately for customers, unauthorized suppliers have been adding ingredients to dilute and cheapen their THC product.

Because cartridges are pre-filled, customers don’t know what they’re getting, and this has proven deadly. Researchers have found ingredients such as vitamin E acetate, pesticides, and heavy metals in cartridge samples from affected people. No single ingredient has been found in all samples, and 15 percent of cases were associated with the exclusive use of nicotine products, so officials indicate that these injuries are likely due to a combination of factors.

Who’s vaping? 

Vaping is becoming more popular among every age group, but data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse from this year show that 21 percent of college students regularly vape nicotine while 11 percent vape THC. These rates have more than tripled over the last few years. In fact, vaping among our country’s young people has grown more widespread, more quickly, than any other substance use since before 1975, when governmental surveys began tracking this information.

How can I know if there are signs of trouble? 

Based off of the CDC data, 95 percent of affected people had shortness of breath or cough for a few days before going to the emergency department as symptoms worsened. However, 77 percent of people had vaguer complaints such as chest pain or severe vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. If you currently vape and develop any of these symptoms for more than a few hours, then you should stop vaping and see your doctor or go to the emergency department. For loved ones that vape, warn them of the risks they’re taking, especially if they use THC-vaping products.

With flu season upon us, some experts believe this situation will worsen as people will be incorrectly diagnosed with influenza or may experience vaping-associated lung injuries in addition to the flu, which could be devastating.

Symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and vomiting can be due to a wide range of problems, making it difficult for a doctor to quickly figure out how to treat someone. Telling your doctor as much as you can about your “social history,” including drug or tobacco use and other personal health information, leads to improved health care.

The bottom line on vaping

At least 33 people are dead. Hundreds have required mechanical breathing tubes in the intensive care unit. Most of these lung injuries are associated with using black-market THC vape cartridges, but some affected people were vaping nicotine exclusively. Health agencies are recommending that everyone stop vaping. People who continue to vape should not buy vaping liquids off the street or add any ingredients to their products.

Gabriel Conley, UI third-year medical student

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