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Hospitalizations tied to vaping on the rise

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 2, 2019

In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man vapes in Chicago. Hospitalizations due to vaping are on the rise across the country. (Nam Y. Huh / AP)
In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man vapes in Chicago. Hospitalizations due to vaping are on the rise across the country. (Nam Y. Huh / AP)

Dr. Ben Arthurs visited Riverside High School in Chattaroy on March 1. The school had asked him to speak about the health risks associated with vaping after a student became very ill.

“One of their classmates had overdosed after basically just smoking a high concentration of nicotine that led to effectively an overdose that led the patient to be somewhat comatose,” said Arthurs, a pulmonologist with Multicare Rockwood.

The incident is one among many that have contributed to a rising rate of vaping-related hospitalizations across the country, according to a statement released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to a vaping-related death in Illinois.

As of Thursday, the CDC reported 193 potential cases of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarettes, all between June 28 and Aug. 20. The CDC advised the public Friday they should not buy vaping devices off the street and should not modify the devices or add substances.

“This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products,” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, CDC director, said in the statement. “Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents.”

Arthurs said one of the dangers of vaping is that the concentration of nicotine can vary greatly. Though Arthurs understands the public is concerned about the recent vaping hospitalizations, he said there should be more concern for the long-term effects of vaping.

“No-nicotine juice actually contains a lot of the harmful chemicals,” Arthurs explained. “Nicotine itself is obviously toxic to the brain … but the pulmonary toxicity in terms of long-term lung disease and respiratory health is linked a lot more to the byproducts of the actual liquid base and not nicotine itself.”

In a sample size of 230,000 students, the Washington Healthy Youth Survey indicated that 21% of 10th-graders had tried vaping within the last 30 days. In Spokane, 25% had tried it.

Linda Harder, Panhandle Health District health educator, has noticed the perception even among parents that vaping is less harmful than tobacco products.

“Some are aware but others are really surprised, not realizing the harmfulness of it,” said Harder, who is also the health district’s tobacco-cessation program coordinator. “Some parents are not aware when their teens are vaping that it even has nicotine in there. It seems that the companies have done a really good job of promoting misleading information, playing down any harms.”

Kimberly Hanna, Kootenai Health Emergency Services nurse manager, said there have been no direct vaping hospitalizations there but that there have been three injuries due to the batteries of the e-cigarettes catching patients’ pants on fire.

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