As Vaping Death Toll Rises, Parents Must Know the Very Real Risks to Their Children

Ultra-fine particles from e-cigarette products go deep into the lungs, a pediatrician warns — including volatile compounds and cancer-causing chemicals

E-cigarettes and vaping products have been a hot topic in health circles over the last few weeks and months — and for good reason.

This summer alone, we saw at least six deaths possibly related to vaping — and 380 cases of vaping-related respiratory illnesses across the country.

This week, some news outlets are reporting those numbers have climbed: There are at least nine deaths and at least 530 cases of illness attributed to vaping, CNBC noted.

And on Thursday morning, Fox News reported that the nationwide death toll due to vaping-related illnesses has risen yet again — to 11 people.

Sadly, many teens and young people continue to believe that vaping is safe.

And many parents are left confused.

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Recent research indicates that most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which has been shown to be highly addictive.

This is alarming, since we know nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain and affect the areas responsible for attention, learning, mood, and impulse control.

Additionally, research shows that vaping affects healthy lung function by causing inflammation and the constriction of airways.

When a user vapes, he or she inhales nicotine (if it contains nicotine), ultra-fine particles that go deep into the lungs, volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead.

And that’s not all.

Many products contain THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects).

A study conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine found that among 53 e-cigarette users who were diagnosed with respiratory illnesses, 84 percent of them were using THC-based products.

The CDC has reported similar findings with patients who used THC products.

It’s important to note, though, that in the same study, that 17 percent only used nicotine products and 44 percent used both THC and nicotine products.

So just because the e-cigarette product doesn’t have THC doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. This is something that has gotten a bit lost in today’s discussion about vaping and its risks.

Although the legal age to buy e-cigarettes is 18 or 21, depending on the state, teens can easily buy such products online — and vaping devices can come in the form of a pen or flash drive, so they are easy to hide at school and in public.

JUUL is one of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes known for its flash drive-shaped vaping devices.

The company has come under a lot of scrutiny now with the FDA and CDC — and has been accused of marketing to underage users.

It’s a nonpartisan issue, too. Two lawmakers — Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) — have introduced legislation to address the rise in tobacco and e-cigarette usage among young people. Shalala told Yahoo Finance this week that JUUL and other vaping companies should be “ashamed” of the role they’ve played in the lung illness epidemic.

And this week, members of Congress grilled the FDA for appearing to look the other way on vaping concerns even as vaping activity by teenagers was soaring.

Related: In the State of Michigan, Vaping Goes Up in Smoke

For all those readers who have teens and young adults: You need to understand the risks of e-cigarettes and vaping, and you need to be taking it seriously.

Arm yourself with knowledge so you can protect your children from these substances — substances that our kids have ready access to today.

The CDC has more in-depth information about vaping and kids — and I strongly recommend parents and caregivers go to its site and read about it.

The surgeon general has strongly advised that physicians, teachers, and parents talk to kids about vaping and warn them that it is serious business — not just a “fun” recreational habit.

And since the CDC has declared e-cigarettes to be dangerous for teens, children and young adults — we must do the same.

They don’t suggest teens use e-cigarettes in moderation. They say they should not use them at all, period.

So as a parent or caregiver, what can you do?

Talk to your teen or young person.

Even if you don’t think he or she is engaging in this, at least some of your child’s friends likely are — so your son or daughter needs to know the risk factors.

While researchers are still determining exactly what is causing these respiratory illnesses, the link to e-cigarettes is undeniable.

Your child should not be using these devices. I say this as a concerned pediatrician and as a loving mother and grandmother.

To keep up with the CDC’s findings on this lung disease outbreak, visit the organization’s website.

meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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