Following six deaths and more than 450 cases of lung illness among people who had habitually used e-cigarettes across the country, the University’s Health Services advised community members to avoid e-cigarettes and report any adverse effects.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are among local and national organizations investigating the outbreak of lung injury.
While this lung damage may be linked to the flavorful smoke permeating school campuses, the “investigation is ongoing and has not identified a cause,” Health Services officials wrote in the Sept. 16 notice.
“We are all extremely concerned because the problem has arisen relatively abruptly, the cases seem to be clustered in time and in a relatively young, otherwise healthy population and we don’t know exactly why,” Executive Director of Health and Wellness Vanessa Britto wrote in an email to The Herald.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced a plan to order the FDA to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes following the reports of lung illnesses, according to the New York Times.
Modified vape contents may cause a type of pneumonia induced by fat build-up in the lungs, wrote Rachel Cassidy, assistant professor of behavioral and social sciences, in an email to The Herald.
“Don’t vape from a cartridge that someone refilled themselves or that looks sketchy in any way, especially if it’s THC or CBD oil,” Cassidy wrote. “If you do vape ... monitor yourself for any new symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath or unusual stomach symptoms,” she added.
Since e-cigarettes were first released for public sale, vapes have evolved; nicotine levels in Juuls have gone up, and vapes with CBD and THC often do not list exact ingredients, Cassidy wrote.
Researchers and public health officials know that traditional cigarette smoke takes close to half a million adult lives in the U.S. each year, but when it comes to vaping, “nobody really knows what’s going on,” said Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Psychiatry and Human Behavior Jennifer Tidey. While nicotine adversely affects the brain in developing adolescents, other long-term consequences of vaping remain unknown.
Among adolescents, vaping frequency escalated from just over 10 percent of high school students to just over 20 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to an FDA survey.
Fruity flavors, inconspicuous appearance and trendiness on social media may all contribute to their rising popularity among young adults, Cassidy wrote.
University researchers are beginning a study to examine the impact of lowering nicotine levels in actual cigarettes among adolescents ages 15 to 19 who smoke regularly, Tidey added. The team will then build on that study to also investigate e-cigarettes.
The FDA has discussed a rule change to require lower nicotine levels in regular cigarettes, Cassidy wrote. But the question remains: will this movement snuff out the flame sparking the problem?
Even though vaping has risks, e-cigarettes also have possible benefits, Tidey said. Although e-cigarettes can negatively affect young people, they have also helped adult smokers transition to e-cigarettes as a less-harmful alternative. “While I think it’s totally appropriate to make sure that youth don’t have access to e-cigarettes, I’m concerned that older adult smokers ... might also not have access,” Tidey said.
“While we hope that this (news about lung illnesses) leads to more caution about using vapes, the public health community is worried that this current coverage may scare people who have quit smoking using vapes and cause them to go back to smoking; and that would be very bad for public health in the long run,” Cassidy added.
Additional questions remain about the long lasting effect that vaping could have on e-cigarette users. “There are so many more critical questions than there are answers and in the meantime people are at very high risk for the development of a potentially life threatening illness,” Britto wrote.