Student commentary

Clearing the air: What you should know about vaping

A nursing student's perspective

by Madison Henninger, IUSON Bloomington Class of 2020

In recent years, vaping has become a trend that has generally been regarded as a “safer” alternative to cigarette smoking. It may be easy to think this way because of the proven harmful effects of smoking, and the lack of similar effects when it comes to vaping and electronic cigarettes. However, as of November 2019, the CDC has reported that, in 49 of 50 states, there have been 2,290 E-cigarette or Vaping product Associated Lung Injuries (EVALIs) and 47 reported deaths.

It is important to remember the original intention of electronic cigarettes and vaping products: to assist chronic smokers in their efforts to stop smoking. Now, companies are profiting by marketing these products to high school and college-age students because of the lack of research and evidence about potential harmful effects. In order to better educate this young target population about vaping and e-cigarettes, healthcare professionals, teachers, professors, and other guiding figures should focus on early education about the risks and possible harmful effects of vaping.

In the past year, the number of high school students using e-cigarettes or vaping products has jumped from 1.73 million to nearly 3 million - or approximately 20% of high school students in the United States.

While there are many unknowns surrounding the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, here’s a little bit of what we do know:

  • In the known cases of EVALIs, fluid samples from the lungs revealed a build-up of vitamin E acetate, a dangerous additive found in vaping cartridges, particularly those containing THC.
  • In the EVALI patients evaluated, all reported the use of e-cigarette or vaping products, and most of the samples collected contained a measurable amount of THC.
  • When these patients were asked where they obtained the products they used, many reported getting them through outside sources rather than through the product’s actual manufacturer. This is believed to be one of the top causes of the outbreak of EVALIs: the ability to load additional substances into vaping cartridges.
  • And an additional scary fact: according to the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey, in the past year, the number of high school students that use e-cigarettes or vaping products has jumped from 1.73 million to nearly 3 million. That is approximately 20% of high school students in the United States!

While, as of yet, there are not any certainties that clearly link other chemicals found in vaping products and e-cigarettes as the root cause of the outbreak of EVALIs and related deaths, researchers are still investigating the science behind these cases.

The CDC recommends that people should avoid the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, especially those containing THC. Other recommendations include not buying these products from improper sources – such as friends, dealers, or online stores – and not using added substances or modifying products, as this could increase the risk of complicated lung injuries. Adults using these products to help them in smoking cessation should not return to the use of cigarettes. Instead, they should make themselves well aware of the signs and symptoms of EVALI, and consider switching to FDA-approved over-the-counter nicotine replacement methods, such as a patch, lozenge, or gum. Lastly, regardless of the lack of clear research on the EVALI outbreak, pregnant women, minors, young adults, and adults who do not currently use tobacco should not begin using e-cigarette or vaping products because all products containing tobacco and/or THC pose significant health risks.

More information and regular statistical and informational updates on the EVALI outbreak can be found online at www.CDC.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html (updated every Thursday). Let’s start educating our communities about the risks of vaping and put an end to the outbreak!

For the past year, senior Madison Henninger has been one of our student interns, doing a fantastic job in helping to keep our offices running smoothly. After graduating in May, Maddy hopes to return home to work in the NICU at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, IN. “Once I get settled in,” she says, “I would love to participate in Public Health initiatives for vulnerable populations in the area. I'm excited to move forward after graduation this spring, but I will definitely miss the community here in Bloomington and at IU!”