More than a quarter of Minnesota high school students admit to vaping in the last month. While recent cases of severe, sometimes deadly lung disease might inspire users to quit, it’s not easy.
Putting down the vape pen can be harder than kicking a cigarette habit.
“I knew it was bad,” Mitch Byers said. “I never thought I’d get addicted.”
He started smoking cigarettes when he moved away to college.
“The appeal was kind of everyone else was kind of doing it,” Byers said. “It did not take very long to go from like one or two cigarettes a week to a pack a day.”
He then replaced his pack-a-day habit after college with a more discreet device he hoped would wean him off nicotine altogether.
Soon he spent as much as $75 a week on vape juice and would take a hit at least every few minutes.
“It got out of control quickly,” Byers said.
Last year, when pain started setting in, the 24-year-old found himself in the emergency room.
“It was in my chest, my whole left side of my body started to ache,” Byers said.
“I thought I was having a heart attack,” he added. “They didn’t really have an explanation for the pain I felt in my chest. I told them I’d been vaping quite a bit and they said that very well might be it.”
As the medical director for Hazelden Betty Ford’s youth services, Dr. Joseph Lee has witnessed how much harder kicking the vape habit can be.
“The problems are pretty concerning,” he said. “Some of these individuals have lung injuries that can be permanent.”
The difference can be explained by the nicotine content. The amount in one vape cartridge can equal the nicotine in one or even two packs of cigarettes. Doctors say inhaling more deeply and more often only adds to the danger.
“Kids who used to need a lower level nicotine patch to get through cravings for a day might need a much higher level and don’t know it,” Lee said.
“It’s no surprise that people are having a hard time stopping,” the doctor added.
Lee says to never try to quit vaping alone. He suggests becoming part of a treatment program. Gum and lozenges can partially work but only when coupled with prescriptions that will help with nicotine cravings.
“Vaping or smoking anything and putting it into your lungs is simply not natural,” Lee said. “We’re not meant to take things in that way.”
He says there is not yet much research on the long-term effects of vaping. In some cases, it can take up to a year for lungs to clear.
Byers has stopped vaping since the day he went to the ER.
“I haven’t had chest pains since,” he said.
A year later, he’s recovering with the help of therapy and lozenges.
Lee says most of the injuries and deaths from vaping have been blamed on the counterfeit cartridge business, especially those containing marijuana.