The Not So Hidden Hazards of Vaping

In the United States, there’s been a rash of vaping related diseases and injuries, especially to lungs. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are currently 450 cases of pulmonary illness due to vaping in the United States today and six people have died as a result. It wasn’t so long ago that vaping was touted as the “safe” way to smoke, but that might have been wishful thinking. As time has passed and people have vaped more, it seems that there ARE repercussions, hidden (and some not so hidden) hazards of vaping.

Modern vaping is relatively new. With the explosion of e-cigarettes hitting the market in 2003, followed by Big Tobacco finally having to admit that their products are related to cancer and other health problems, people finally thought they had a safe way to smoke. But electronic cigarettes have actually been around for a lot longer than most people think. Back in 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert invented the first “smokeless nontobacco cigarette,” but it never really caught on then. In China, inventor Hon Lik patented the modern e-cigarette. 

Today, in the United States, the CDC estimates that 4.9 middle schoolers and high schoolers vape in its latest report that came out recently. That’s a 38 percent uptick from just last year for high schoolers and 28.6 percent for middle schoolers. In layman’s terms, that’s over a third of all high schoolers and over a quarter of all middle schoolers. It’s effectively erased all gains in efforts to reduce smoking in teens.

So, what changed?

Part of the problem is that due to the relative newness of the devices and the problem, there’s still not enough data to make definitive conclusions. That’s not to say there isn’t a connection. They are connected. How is the only question in debate.

One theory is that the thickening agent in cannabis cartridges, introduced in late 2018, may be the source of the rash of lung disease cases. THC potency is linked to the consistency of fluid in the cartridges, which is why the new agent was introduced in the first place, as a way of matching market forces. But the science hasn’t been done on this yet. It’s just something new that might explain the change in statistics.

Also, in California, state regulators have noticed a rise in heavy metals in vape cartridges. Heavy metals are usually toxic & sadly, not rare in the environment. They’ve also been found in the food we eat and the water we drink. It is, however, the buildup of these toxic particles that can make them deadly. Just like our bodies can have some radiation exposure and not affected, the same is true of heavy metals. The accumulation is where the danger lies. And when you add vaping to the mix of already consuming heavy metals, it might be a matter of hitting the tipping point sooner as a result.

Now, that we know how vaping came about and a couple of the potential causes for failing health, what should today’s vaper need to be on the lookout for? What are the symptoms that indicate a need for more serious medical intervention? It starts with a persistent cough & shortness of breath, followed by chest pains. Some have reported having nausea, vomiting, diarrhea & having a fever. Others experience fatigue and unexplained weight loss. If you vape and are experiencing these symptoms, seek medical help. Left unchecked, fluid will build up in the lungs, leading to extreme respiratory distress known as ARDS. This can be combated with steroids, but that leads to other potential problems. A public health officer for Kings County, California on the long-term outlook of people who vaped said, “The bottom line is, we don’t know. This is all so new.”

Once hailed as a way to quit smoking once and for all, the growth of people vaping suggests just the opposite is happening, which makes sense. The delivery system may be different, but we’re still dealing with nicotine. Nicotine is still a poison. It’s still as addictive as ever. The addiction just switched from traditional cigarettes to the electronic variety. While nicotine is not in all liquids being vaped, they are in most according to the CDC. And just because the liquid being vaped doesn’t have nicotine, doesn’t mean there aren’t other harmful chemicals being ingested. Even the so-called flavored liquids contain diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

Another side effect of vaping in the young is that instead of leading people away from smoking, it might actually lead children and teens back into smoking cigarettes, having been addicted to nicotine and seeking a bigger hit to reduce cravings. 

At the end of the day, introducing foreign chemicals to our bodies, unless prescribed by health professionals in a doctor’s office or hospital, is NEVER a good thing. There is no safe way to vape. It doesn’t matter if its nicotine, flavored water or even marijuana, the additional chemicals used in vaping are a serious health hazard. It should never be used for simple recreation. 

If after all this, you STILL insist on vaping, knowing everything that’s in the cartridge. Buy from registered dealers. Don’t go to the back alley for more potency. You never know what you’re getting when you do. If you start developing any of the symptoms listed above of lung disease, stop and consult with a health professional immediately. If you don’t, the price you may pay might be way higher than you were expecting it to be!