Vaping, thought of as a safe alternative to smoking tobacco products, has come under scrutiny recently due to six confirmed deaths and over 450 cases of lung illnesses linked to the practice.

Vaping has become popular over the past ten years, especially with teenagers. It is an electric powered cartridge which holds oil, sometimes flavored, of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), nicotine, or cannabidiol (CBD). According to the New York Times, health investigators believe that there are dozens of chemicals that cause the lung inflammatory disease, “that looks a lot like pneumonia and that can essentially strangle the afflicted if not treated properly.”

Adam Hergenreder, an 18-year-old student from Gurnee, Illinois and wrestler, told his story to CNN. He had been vaping for a little over a year when he started showing symptoms of what he thought was the flu. It wasn’t until he had been throwing up for three days that he finally went to his pediatrician, where he ended up in ICU. “If I had known what it was doing to my body, I would have never even touched it, but I didn’t know,” he told CNN. He was told he now has the lungs of a 70-year-old adult and may never wrestle again. He told CNN he wants to share his story in hopes that, “if one person stops, hopefully everyone else stops.”

The median age of otherwise healthy patients has been 19 and mostly male. They exhibited symptoms of cough, chest pain, headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Patients have had to be treated with oxygen or breathing machines. Cases are not limited to one region, with diagnoses in 33 states. Six deaths have been confirmed in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Oregon and Kansas. The Associated Press reports that it is unknown which devices are the culprit because some patients vaped THC, while others only vaped nicotine and many vaped both. Vaping is so new that not enough research has been conducted to understand its long-term effects.

Utah doctors studied six patients treated for the pulmonary disease narrowing down the common factor of Vitamin E acetate, an oil used in vape oil manufacture as a thickener. The doctors “found oil droplets in immune cells of vaping patients” wrote Carla K. Johnson, in the Associated Press article, “What we know so far about the US Vaping Illness Outbreak.”

New York has launched an investigation into vaping and its harmful effects; subpoenaing three companies who manufacture oil with Vitamin E acetate so that they can learn more about the product. President Trump advocated a ban on flavored e-cigarettes in response to the new enlightened epidemic. “The large number of cases is new and alarming to public health officials” Johnson wrote.

Most cases had been caused from vapes that were sold on the street apart from the Oregon death where the patient had bought the product at a dispensary. It is not clear if dispensary vape cartridges are safe. Johnson stated in her article that “health officials are urging people to stop vaping and to get medical care if they have trouble breathing or chest pain after vaping.”

Adam Hergenreder began with nicotine because he liked the taste and slight buzz from the nicotine. He told CNN he had the “shivers and couldn’t control it and would randomly convulse.” His mother Polly Hergenreder had noticed he would cough every time he puffed on his Juul.

Linda J. Dunphy, Director of University Health and Wellness Programs at UMass Boston stated that it is becoming apparent that vaping is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes as was originally touted. “It seemed risky behavior to engage in” when vaping first became popular. Dunphy is available to counsel and assess the needs of those wishing to quit any substance. If you notice any of these symptoms utilize the University Health Services on the second floor of the Quinn Administration Building. They are open Monday through Wednesday 8:30 a.m.– 7 p.m. and Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m.– 5 p.m. Dunphy said that it is important to educate in order to battle this fast-growing epidemic. The following are ways students can obtain more information:

Phone: 617-287-5680

Email: linda.dunphy@umb.edu 

https://www.umb.edu/healthservices/hew/tobacco_free_living

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