WVU physician warns against dangers of vaping

West Virginia University Division Chief for Pulmonary Care, Sunil Sharma, says everyone needs to be informed about the dangers of vaping – especially parents.(WVU School of Medicine)

Vaping has rapidly become a controversial issue in the United States, especially when the possible effects on teens are considered.

Many doctors have spoken out in the media publicly warning parents of the dangers of vaping and encouraging them to advise kids against it.

Last week, the news broke that three different school districts in Long Island, New York; Kansas, and Missouri filed a lawsuit against the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, accusing it of endangering students and forcing school personnel to divert time and resources to fight the nicotine addiction epidemic.

It was reported in the media that the districts are accusing Juul of explicitly marketing its products to youth, leaving the burden on schools to carry the costs of stopping kids from vaping and offering support when they become addicted.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use increased 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015 and has surpassed traditional cigarettes as the preferred product for this age group.

The CDC claims “heavy marketing” of these products with “youth-resonating themes” are likely the reason.

West Virginia University Division Chief for Pulmonary Care Sunil Sharma says everyone needs to be informed about the dangers of vaping – especially parents.

“In our opinion, all vaping at this point is quite dangerous,” Sharma said.

“Vaping is inhaling certain material which can range from nicotine versus nonnicotine chemicals which can contain vegetable oils into the lungs,” Sharma explained.

“Anytime you're inhaling chemicals into your lungs, it tends to be a problem – we know that from smoking.”

Sharma says vaping carries a risk of serious short- and long-term damage.

Short-term damage is what’s been recently seen in lung injuries.

As of Oct. 1, the CDC had confirmed 18 e-cigarette or vaping-related deaths in 15 states.

There have been 1,080 reported lung injury cases total and about 80 percent of patients are under 35 years old, the CDC says.

West Virginia had three confirmed cases of vaping-related injuries to date, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Sharma says the West Virginia cases have ranged from kids walking in with chest pain and shortness of breath to acute respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation.

He says vaping injuries tend to differ depending on what chemicals an individual has been inhaling and if marijuana was involved.

“It's nicotine versus a combination of nicotine and marijuana, or dabbing, which we think is much more toxic and dangerous than pure nicotine vaping. I think this toxic mixture is leading to enhanced lung injury at this time,” said Sharma.

Sharma says there are currently many thoughts as to why vaping is causing acute lung injuries.

"One of those thoughts is these vaping chemicals or liquids can contain Vitamin E. Then there are other vaping products that have other essential oils like vegetable glycerin,” he said.

It is also a common fact that any oil inhalation into the lungs is dangerous.

“Traditionally we know even before vaping, if patients were inhaling oils it could result in very terrible pneumonia called lipoid pneumonia or oil pneumonia. There is no real treatment for it. Some patients get terribly sick and die," he said.

Sharma says vaping is “highly unregulated" which adds to the problem.

Some teens are getting their hands on underground vape products that can be more unsafe than the marketed ones, per Sharma.

“Kids are buying these cartridges from local dealers that are making vaping products in their garage or basement and what they are mixing the quantity of could result in even more toxic injuries,” Sharma said.

Added flavorings are also alluring to teens.

“These flavors have been found to have heavy metal like lead and zinc that can also cause lung injury,” Sharma said. “These are all things parents should be hyper acutely aware of and continuously educate their children.”

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People originally thought vaping was safer than smoking cigarettes because of less chemicals, according to Sharma.

“As time went by, we’ve realized the quantity of chemicals that are deposited in the lungs are also getting absorbed in the blood vessels and stiffening the blood vessels which can cause heart disease,” Sharma said.

Sharma says there’s still a lot more to learn and experts are scrambling to find answers. All they know for now is that vaping can have severe consequences.

West Virginia University School of Medicine is currently conducting a seven-person inpatient vaping study.

At least five of the seven patients have exhibited a direct vaping lung injury, according to Sharma. The majority of the five are in their twenties.

The university says it’s doing an intense investigation which includes lung wash samples and will release its findings when the data is complete.

“We’ve created a vaping task force and are keeping an eye on all with a suspicious vaping injury. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this,” Sharma concluded.

The CDC says the cause of the vaping outbreak is still unknown.

Until a clear answer has been substantiated, they’re recommending that all persons refrain from e-cigarette or vaping products, particularly those containing THC.

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