By: Kate Rogers, News Editor
In the last several weeks, there have been eight deaths caused by a lung disease that doctors have tied to vaping. According to a USM nurse practitioner, Malinda Scannell, there is no consensus on what this disease is and what specifically is causing it. However, every patient had used some sort of vape in the 90 days prior to falling ill. Roughly 530 people have been affected by what is believed to be this disease, according to the New York Times.
Maine passed a law on September 19 banning electronic smoking devices on primary and secondary school grounds. Vaping for minors was prohibited already, but the hope is that this will further discourage them. Both USM campuses are already smoking and vape free. New laws have been proposed in several states that would ban flavored vape liquids or e-cigarettes all together.
Doctors have found traces of vitamin E oil in the lung tissue of people affected with what they believe to be this vaping-related disease and are speculating if it might be the problem. This vitamin dissolves in fat and is often used in topical skin care products, but it has been found in some of the devices turned in by patients according to Scannell. The connection has not been confirmed; doctors do not know if this is the cause because not all of the devices examined have included vitamin E.
Garrett Chapman is the regional manager for the largest vaping brand in Maine, Empire Vape Shop. He summarized the many ways Empire’s products are regulated. “Our responsibility as vape shops is to enforce these laws,” Chapman said. His concern is that banning e-cigarettes will affect only the regulated vape products and increase black market vape sales instead. “The ban doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. He believes this ban will also send people who have replaced cigarettes with vaping back to smoking. “I can’t imagine telling my customers … that they have to go back to smoking,” Chapman said.
Chapman said that vitamin E is not included in any regulated vape liquid. However, he believes this could be an issue because of black market products.
Non-regulated THC and nicotine vape liquid can easily be purchased from dealers or the internet and can contain a myriad of chemicals that should absolutely not be inhaled, according to Chapman. Buying off the internet is much easier for minors since a vape shop that complies to ISO and FDA standards will not sell vape products to anyone under 21, whereas on the internet there is no way of regulating in this way. These non regulated products are cheaper because those selling them are not subject to taxes which also makes them appealing to all ages. Many of the people who have fallen ill have gotten their vapes from less than reputable sources, according to the New York Times. Under no circumstances should anyone buy vape liquid from a non regulated source. This is extremely dangerous according to Scannell and Chapman.
Chapman does not recommend anyone start vaping nicotine if they do not smoke. Scannell also recommends that if a person can stop vaping, they should, especially until further research can be done on vape products and this new lung disease. She says that using FDA approved smoking alternatives like the patches and gum if a person is trying to quit is proven to be safe. “You just have to support people however you can, and we’ll see where this goes,” Scannell said. USM’s Health and Counseling services will offer recovery assistance if any student wants to quit smoking or vaping.
Beyond this disease outbreak, concerns about youth vaping have been high for some time. Juul brand vapes specifically are less regulated than other vapes, as they are sold at convenience stores and other places that do not ID at the entrance. There are also no official nicotine free options for a Juul device.
The government is concerned that the many flavors offered for vapes as well as the styles of the devices are a pull for the youth. Scannell agrees that this could be a problem, and why banning flavored vapes could be a valid way to lessen the amount of young people who may start vaping.
Chapman disagrees. “Adults like flavors too,” he said. “It’s not about the flavors, it’s about the buzz.” He believes this is no different than the reason children started smoking in the past— because it was cool.
Scannell is concerned that vapes may not be a solution to the smoking problem and are instead replacing one problem with another. The Royal College of Physicians in the U.K. has been funding vape studies as a smoking alternative. The theory is that the act of inhalation is helpful in the transition from cigarettes to something hopefully less harmful. Scannell believes that trying to move on from the behavior of the inhalation is just as important as withdrawing from the nicotine. “It’s breaking that habit, breaking that cycle,” she said.
Researchers in the U.K. believe the amount of chemicals in vape liquid is so small compared to cigarettes that the results must be less harmful to the point where a few hospitals in the country have opened vape shops. “There are over 9000 chemicals in a cigarette … Acetone, Strychnine … that these just don’t possess,” Chapman said.
Despite this, Scannell is still skeptical of the inhaling of so many chemicals. “Why would … that be a good idea?”
In Illinois, parents have an option if their child is caught with a vape. They can either pay a fairly steep fine, or they can attend a class with their child on the dangers of inhalants. Scannell and Chapman both agreed that increased education like this is crucial to lessening the problems with vaping, especially with youth.