Vaping illnesses and deaths have spiked across the country since the beginning of 2019.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 805 lung injury cases were reportedly associated with vaping products in 46 states and one U.S. territory. 12 deaths have been confirmed in 10 states as of Tuesday.

The CDC reported 62 percent of patients were 18 to 34 years old. Of this, 22 percent were reportedly between the ages of 18 and 21, the age group which the majority of college students fall under. 16 percent of patients overall were under 18 years.

The underlying definition of vaping is a device of some sort that creates a vapor by heating up some type of liquid which is then inhaled, said Dr. Deric Kenne, an associate professor in the College of Nursing. 

Kenne has over 15 years of experience as a researcher regarding substance abuse. He is considered an expert in vaping and electronic cigarettes and the dangers associated with such devices. 

The liquid in the vape has some sort of base, typically either a nicotine or a marijuana substance. Additives, such as vitamins or herbs and a flavoring or scent are usually mixed in as well, he said.

Some people vape to help quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. Others vape because they find it cool or because it smells or tastes good to them, Kenne said.

Due to the limited amount of research conducted in this area, it has not yet been determined which types of vapes, if any, are safe.

“It’s potentially safe, but also potentially unsafe, depending on what your perspective is or what your background is,” Kenne said. “It can be good if it’s something that gets you off of tobacco smoking. But, if you don’t smoke at all and you start vaping, then I think it’s potentially bad.”

He also mentioned that the way in which you obtain your vaping materials can influence the safety of vaping. 

“It seems vapes that are made by large manufacturers that have a very standardized process are probably okay, in terms of the safety of using them,” Kenne said. “With the internet, you can get (vapes) anywhere and you don’t know who is making it, how they’re making it or what the ingredients are,” making them potentially dangerous to users. 

The ingredients within vapes also posed threats to the health of those who vape. 

“In some instances, when companies are making e-liquids, they’re using (products) that are considered ‘food-safe,’” Kenne said. “But, there’s been reports and studies showing that certain (products) aren’t necessarily good for you if they’re used in a way that is different from their intended use.”

Dr. Lisa Dannemiller, the interim chief university physician at University Health Services, said heating up oils, such as vegetable oil, at high temperatures and inhaling them could be related to the lung injuries that have occurred.

“Lymphoid pneumonia (occurs) whenever someone is aerosolizing (the oil),” she said. “Inflammation in the lungs is also what (doctors) are seeing.”

The reason for the recent rise in illnesses and deaths related to vaping is still unknown. The long-term side effects and problems associated with vaping is also still unknown.

The CDC and FDA are still investigating the cause of these lung injuries, but there has not been one specific product or substance to blame. The people who have had these lung injuries have not reportedly used the same product, Dannemiller said. 

“If you don’t smoke, don’t start vaping,” she said. “If you’re an adult that switched over to e-cigarettes because you were trying to stop smoking, don’t go back to smoking (cigarettes) again.”

If you, or someone you know, is looking to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes or vaping, please visit the University Health Center. 

Contact Becca Sagaris at bsagaris@kent.edu.

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