The danger of vaping for teens and young adults took on a frightening tone last year, when more than 1,000 people who use electronic cigarettes were hospitalized with respiratory problems, including 55 who died.
Covid-19 may prove even more alarming as researchers dig into the causes of what hospitalized and killed young people during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Not that fear drives too many kids away from vaping.
“It works pretty well for seventh- and eighth-graders, but once you’re into high school, the kids will tell you they don’t care about that,” said Dr. Frank Michalski, an addiction recovery coach and owner of Northtown Chiropractic & Injury Rehab in East Amherst.
Michalski has become a bit of a celebrity for the younger set. He works with those addicted to nicotine and energy drinks, particularly through his Addiction Mindset website, northtownchiro.com/addiction-mindset. He has more than 40,000 followers across his social media platforms, particularly on TikTok, known for its short video clips.
His talks in school districts across the region avoid the standard fear-mongering approach when he asks students – ranging from age 11 into their late teens – to reconsider vaping.
Instead, he appeals to their better selves.
He asks teens how vaping has impacted their relationships, sports, achieving academic success and future career goals.
“I also ask, ‘Have you thought about this as a substance abuse addiction? We don’t really know the side effects. Companies are treating you guys like lab rats. Think about it. They got you addicted to the substance, the nicotine. They got you addicted to the flavors. And then they got you addicted to the device because it’s a cool piece of technology,’” Michalski said.
“Every time you inhale, a lot of these products light up on the end,” he said. “Yes, it shows that it’s charged but it also tells your brain that it’s about to receive a reward.”
As is the case with cigarettes, kids start vaping because of peer pressure, mostly in school and online, said Michalski, who beat a nicotine addiction in his younger years.
Most kids get e-cigarette products from friends who bought them online, not at vape shops, he said, adding, “I’m targeted daily from people trying to sell me products online and there’s no age verification or anything.”
He pointed to e-cigarette marketing in stores and online that uses bright colors and attractive young people vaping in hip settings as both a hook and reassurance.
Many teens tell Michalski they continue using to help them cope with stress and depression. He underlines that nicotine – or vaping marijuana with THC – is a temporary solution to challenges that deserve a healthier approach.
He also is concerned about the lengths some teens will take to hide their addiction from their parents – secrecy that can prove costly in the midst of a pandemic.
Most young e-cigarette users who died last year succumbed to a severe form of pneumonia, researchers have concluded. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education both warned this month that those who vape and smoke cigarettes or pot lower their immunity and are at greater risk for respiratory problems should they contract the new coronavirus.
“We want to be as healthy as we can right now,” Michalski said. “That’s really been the big message.”
Vaping devices are made of plastics, on which the new coronavirus can linger up to three days, he said, and teens often share the same device. The aerosol vapor exhaled also can linger in the air.
Symptoms of respiratory distress that came from those who vaped last year, particularly those who inhaled THC oil, were similar to what those with Covid-19 are experiencing during the pandemic, Michalski said. He gave this advice to kids who vape in secret.
“You might have not told your parents yet, but God forbid, if you get sick, you’ve got to be upfront with your physician.”
Scott Scanlon/Buffalo News