What we know (and don’t) about the e-cigarette illness outbreak
By Alex Hentschel
Over the past few months, hundreds have been hospitalized for symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and vomiting. Health professionals are exasperated, as lung scans reveal no cause of infection. There is, however, one common thread between the patients: they vape.
Vaping, the “safe alternative to cigarettes,” is a national public health crisis.
According to an October 3 report from the Center for Disease Control, the count is 1,080 confirmed and probable cases of the outbreak across almost every state, resulting in more than a dozen deaths.
Most of those patients report a history of using THC-containing products, leading health professionals to hypothesize substances mixed with the e-cigarettes could be causing the illness. The CDC, however, is clear on one point — no one chemical has been isolated as the cause.
Official recommendations from the CDC include not buying vaping products from anyone other than a trusted retailer and not modifying the cartridges to add CBD or THC oils.
Though major e-cigarette companies claim that they were created to help smokers transition to a safer alternative, some of the most frequent consumers of e-cigarette products are young adults. Health officials say more than a third of patients are younger than 21. For the first time in decades, young people are getting addicted to nicotine at alarming rates.
One major e-cigarette marketing company, Juul, claims that their product was intended to help users of tobacco products, but they have been accused of marketing their products to juveniles. The trend of juvenile vaping coincided with Juul’s release on the market.
A major national survey recently found that the number of high schoolers who use e-cigarettes increased by about 75 percent since 2017. A team of researchers with Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising conducted a study of Juul’s company marketing campaigns. Analyzing company emails, Instagram posts and other advertisements, the team found that, damningly, Juul’s advertising was “patently youth-oriented,” using the same techniques that tobacco companies used. Even a quick Google search reveals smiling young adults and bright colors in Juul’s advertising.
Public officials are responding. The Food and Drug Administration has released commercials warning about the danger to children, and the Trump administration moved to ban flavored cartridges, stating that they made the vape pens more attractive to young consumers.
Three school districts have filed a joint lawsuit against Juul, accusing the company of “endangering students and forcing educators to divert time and money to fight an epidemic of nicotine addiction,” according to the New York Times.
Under the supervision of Dr. Brenda Pahl, current Cedarville third-year pharmacy students Stephanie Wu and Alaina Spears are developing a teaching curriculum that can be used in middle school and high schools about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.
Wu mentioned that many students don’t know that the products contain several chemicals besides nicotine — including benzene, a chemical found in car exhaust.
“We have most recently finished a 25-minute-long interactive Prezi presentation that is filled with video clips, discussion questions, and facts about the ‘truth’ behind these products,” Wu said. “With some people smoking as many as 3-4 pods a week, that would be equivalent to smoking 60-80 regular cigarettes each week — that adds up to roughly 4,000 cigarettes per year. Imagine the kind of impact this can have on developing brains and lungs.”
Their first presentation was at Xenia High School on October 11.
Whether it is the products themselves, or consumers mixing additives into the cartridges, one thing is certain — as health professionals have been warning us for years, there’s nothing “safe” about nicotine addiction.
Alex Hentschel is a senior International Studies and Spanish double major and the Off-Campus News Editor for Cedars. She enjoys sociology, black coffee, and honest debate, preferably all at once.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.