RICHMOND, Va. — Severe lung illnesses possibly related to vaping or e-cigarette use is a growing concern. One group using those products in record numbers are teens.
Thirty-seven percent of seniors in high school said they used one in the past year, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse report from 2018.
There are now investigations going on after nearly 200 possible cases of people getting sick, who had used e-cigarettes, were reported in 22 states. Three are in the Commonwealth, two in Northern Virginia and one in the southwest. One death was reported in Illinois.
“When we see a risk to public’s health, we take action,” Dr. Laurie Forlano, the Deputy Commissioner for Population Health at the Virginia Dept. of Health, said.
The Virginia Dept. of Health (VDH) is urging doctors to report any possible sick patients so they can investigate. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue and stomach problems. Symptoms can get worse over a couple of days or a week.
“These symptoms are similar to other viral illnesses, so it will be a little bit difficult,” Dr. Forlano said. “But I would encourage a parent to take your child to their healthcare provider as soon as you have any kind of concern.”
There isn’t much research out there about the long term health effects of vaping when compared to cigarettes and tobacco. Many say they use vapes to help them quit smoking.
“What we do know is that nicotine is addictive, nicotine can be harmful to a developing brain,” Dr. Forlano said.
A new law went into effect in July that raises the age to buy tobacco and tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and vapes, to 21 years old.
With e-cigarette use on the rise for teens, Dr. Forlano says families should sit down and talk about the potential health risks. Parents should read up from “reputable” sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the VDH website.
“Then start the conversation with your children,” she said. “Help them understand what harms are associated with using e-cigarettes. Because the products may not look at harmful as they may potentially be.”
Being an “example” of a healthy lifestyle is also a big aspect, she added. If you’re trying to quit smoking, Dr. Forlano says talking about the challenges you’ve faced is also helpful for kids.
All public school grounds, buses and school events are now tobacco-free for students and adults because of a new law passed by the General Assembly this year. This includes all forms of tobacco products, before school boards were required to develop policies around e-cigarettes.
Also, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth (VFHY) was mandated by a new law to develop educational materials for school divisions on health risks for tobacco and all nicotine products. The VFHY works with 50,000 Virginia kids each year. That information was given to the Dept. of Education and has since been made available to teachers, foundation officials say.