BY ISABELLA MARCON
In the last century, our society has experienced one of the most highly advanced technological revolutions mankind has ever seen. Over time, the advancement of technology has branched from the initial standard of finding more practical and efficient ways of performing tasks, to the development of luxury amenities and superficial items.
One of the most prominent and detrimental examples of this branching is the ongoing advancement and evolution of nicotine delivery systems like cigarettes. Tobacco and cigarette use was common in the United States going back to the 13 colonies. The popularity of cigarette smoking spiked in the 19th century after the invention of the cigarette machine. Since then, cigarettes have become one of the most deadly products to hit the market, resulting in the collapse of public health around the world.
After decades of a booming industry, around the 1980s, a wave of lawsuits emerged that became the true turning point of the cigarette industry. As these cases came out, the public soon became aware of the negative effects that cigarettes had on health.
In a landmark case, Cipollone v. Liggett, the plaintiff and her family alleged that cigarette manufacturers knew of the fatal effects that cigarettes can have on users, but chose not to warn consumers. The Court held that federally mandated warnings do not restrain smokers from suing manufacturers under state personal injury laws.
Since then, cigarettes have become one of the most deadly products to hit the market, resulting in the collapse of public health around the world.
Class action lawsuits ensued, with Florida being one of the leaders of the tobacco litigation cases. During the discovery process in litigation, damaging materials, data and memos became available to the public and was broadcast by the media. The public slowly gained awareness of the real risks of cigarette use and transitioned from smoking to finding smoking substitutes or quitting. This created a market for the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette), or as it is also referred to as, vaping.
Jarring data recently released from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown that there are serious risks associated with vaping, and these risks are mostly affecting young people. As of October 22, 2019, 49 states, the US Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia have reported 1,604 lung injuries related to vaping, according to the CDC. Half of these cases and two deaths occurred with patients who were under 25 years old, and 79% were under the age of 35.
As more data is collected by the CDC about this relatively new technology, more is becoming known about the specific risks involved, the groups that are impacted and the potential causes. While vaping remains popular in the United States, and some have used this as a safer alternative to quitting smoking cigarettes, there is a new cause for concern, especially among young people.
“Inhaling any heated or chemical substance can cause lung irritation and lung damage. And, any kind of further exposure to that can increase your chances at getting lung damage, and doing that at such a young age, when you’ve got such a healthy pair of lungs, it’s so disheartening,” retired emergency room and radiology nurse at Memorial Regional Hospital South Lesley Johnson said.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes produce an aerosol that consists of fine particles rather than tobacco smoke. A majority of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, and the once “safer alternative” has become the new health concern of the 21st century. With casual use, side effects can range from mild to life-threatening.
“Inhaling any heated or chemical substance can cause lung irritation and lung damage. And, any kind of further exposure to that can increase your chances at getting lung damage, and doing that at such a young age, when you’ve got such a healthy pair of lungs, it’s so disheartening.”Retired emergency room and radiology nurse at Memorial Regional Hospital South Lesley Johnson
“E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat up nicotine-based oil and then turn it into vapor,” Johnson said. “People who are avid e-cigarette users would probably experience a more congested and deeper cough, some people will experience a shortage of breath just doing minimal activity and others will have trouble catching or keeping a deep breath.”
As use continues and escalates, CDC data suggests that these symptoms can worsen to serious lung injuries and even death, although the exact causes are so far unknown.
One of the reasons for the popularity of vaping or e-cigarettes seems to be that it is hard to smell in clothing and is relatively easy to conceal from concerned parents or teachers.
“When I was growing up, if people were smoking, you automatically smelled like it, and I think this was something that was really appealing to teens and also smokers,” Johnson said. “[Vaping is] easier for teens because you can get away with it because your parents can’t smell it.”
This problem is compounded by additional chemicals and toxins that may find their way into vaping capsules.
As further studies continue to look into the precise cause or causes of lung injuries, the CDC suggests that everyone consider refraining from vaping or e-cigarette use, especially young adults, children or pregnant women.
“It’s not just the e-cigs that teens are vaping, you can also vape CBD and THC, and it’s basically undetectable,” Johnson said. “And that’s what’s concerning to me, that it’s so widely available and accessible and there really hasn’t been that much documentation on its risks.”
Her observations are supported by recently released CDC data which notes that THC seems to be playing a major role in this health crisis. Of 867 patients with vape or e-cigarette related lung injuries, 86% reported the use of THC vaping products.
As further studies continue to look into the precise cause or causes of lung injuries, the CDC suggests that everyone consider refraining from vaping or e-cigarette use, especially young adults, children or pregnant women. The CDC also recommends that vaping or e-cigarette users do not buy any products off of the streets and discourages users from modifying or altering e-cigarette or vaping materials bought in retail establishments.
Although research has not yet conclusively determined that e-cigarettes or vaping are the culprits of all of these reported lung injuries, they noted that all the cases have the same common thread: vaping or e-cigarette use. Until this deadly outbreak is thoroughly understood, people are encouraged to avoid this silent killer, as the life they save might be their own.
Photo courtesy of Associated Press News