As vaping has skyrocketed in popularity since its introduction about 10 years ago, you may be worried about the health risks if you or your friends or loved ones vape. You've probably heard about the rising number of people becoming sick and dying of illnesses related to vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 26 deaths in 21 states as of Oct. 10, 2019.
Such worries are well-founded, says pulmonologist Luis G. Ruiz, MD, the Assistant Physician in Chief for Quality, Risk and Medical Legal Affairs in the DCSM service area of the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group (MAPMG).
"In this recent outbreak, in addition to the 26 confirmed deaths, the CDC recently reported more than 1,200 cases of vaping-related lung injuries in more than 48 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands," says Dr. Ruiz.
"Some people have gone into complete respiratory failure," he notes. Many people made sick by vaping have had to be put on ventilators in order to breathe. In some cases, teenagers who have survived the vaping-related illnesses have been left with lungs that function like those of people in their 70s.
No Evidence of Safety
"When these devices hit the market, they were being promoted as an alternative to smoking cigarettes," says Dr. Ruiz. "But there was never enough evidence for vaping to become a recommended means for people to quit smoking
Furthermore, there is no evidence that vaping is more effective than other, tested approaches to smoking cessation, such as nicotine replacements, oral medications, and counseling.
"Initial reports also strongly suggest that vaping can be a significant risk factor for developing problems like asthma, chronic cough, or shortness of breath," says Dr. Ruiz. "Neither the CDC nor the Food and Drug Administration recommend the use of these devices."
In the medical world, vaping devices are often called electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDs), but they don't produce tobacco smoke. Instead, the devices create aerosols that consist of fine particles that contain toxic chemicals. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, lung diseases, and heart disease. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical in marijuana that creates a high. Many of the people who have died after vaping had been inhaling THC, Dr. Ruiz says, and many people are inhaling altered vaping mixtures that they concoct themselves or obtain from various untraceable sources. In response, the CDC recommends refraining from using any vaping products, particularly those containing THC, until scientists know more about what is causing the recent outbreak of illness and death.
"Another important thing is that even though you are not smoking a cigarette, if you vape fluids containing nicotine, you will still develop an addiction to nicotine," says Dr. Ruiz. And nicotine levels in vaping fluids, which were modest at first, have been rising recently, he says, in a trend that worries many public health experts. He also points out that not all vaping fluids do contain nicotine.
Don't Become a Statistic
CDC researchers are actively seeking the exact reasons for the vaping-related epidemic. "The illnesses and deaths are linked to severe lung injuries related to chemical exposure, not to cancer or infection," says Dr. Ruiz. "But it's not clear whether the cause has something to do with the devices themselves, the aerosols, the heat of the liquid, or some combination of these factors." Dr Ruiz warns, "If you do vape and if you start coughing or feeling chest pain of shortness of breath, stop vaping immediately and go see a doctor"
To learn more about vaping, including the latest information on vaping-related injuries, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn more about smoking cessation by visiting MAPMG's Staying Healthy pages.
Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, P.C. (Permanente) is our network of over 1,500 physicians who practice in our medical centers located in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia.