This week island students headed back to school, a time of year that presents an opportunity for parents and other trusted adults to have conversations with youth about making healthy choices for the coming year. Relevant topics may include options for coping with stress and the importance of making wise choices around alcohol and drugs. But this year for teens, the conversations absolutely should include the serious vaping-related health risks that have recently come to light.
On Vashon, results of the Healthy Youth Survey, which district students complete every other year, show that use of alcohol and drugs has gone down consistently since 2006, according to Lisa Bruce of VARSA, the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse. But vaping is up — a trend across the nation. In fact, CDC statistics show that between 2017 and 2018, the number of youth who used the devices increased by 1.5 million. In that time, high school use of e-cigarettes increased from almost 12% to nearly 21% and middle school use from about 3% to nearly 5%. The biggest users: white male high school students.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about e-cigarettes last week, stating that there have been 215 possible cases of severe pulmonary disease associated with e-cigarettes and that additional illnesses are under investigation. Over the weekend, NBC news reported that the number of hospitalizations related to vaping was at least 298 — more than 50% higher than what the CDC had reported — a number it culled from state health department data. NBC also reported that Wisconsin has had 16 people diagnosed with “severe chemical pneumonia” after vaping with nicotine or marijuana products and another 15 cases there are under investigation. Wisconsin has urged its residents to stop using vaping devices immediately.
In all, there have been cases of suspected vaping-related pulmonary illnesses in 25 states, with one death reported in Illinois. Symptoms have included cough, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and fever. Antibiotics have not been sufficient in treating the illnesses, and many patients have required supplemental oxygen or ventilator assistance. So far, no cases have been reported in the Pacific Northwest, but anyone who has used e-cigarettes and experiences those symptoms should seek medical attention promptly.
More information will likely be known about the illnesses in the coming weeks and months. But for now the message to teens from parents, educators, coaches, family members, friends and neighbors must be clear: Cigarettes, which ultimately kill half the people who use them, and e-cigarettes, now linked to severe health problems, pose extremely high risks for users.
Experts stress that parents and other trusted adults hold much influence over teens. They encourage adults to understand the facts, engage in conversation with open dialog and talk about the subject over time, in small bits and pieces if necessary. And, of course, parents should lead by example and not use cigarettes or e-cigarettes themselves. For people of all ages looking for tips to quit, see cdc.gov/tobacco.