It’s a terrifying event for a parent, your athletic, happy child at a football game one night and in a hospital bed the next.
“I almost threw up. I just couldn’t believe it.,” said Erin Bell Griffin.
It wasn’t just that her 17-year-old was in the hospital, it was why he was in the hospital that put Erin in disbelief. His sudden illness was caused by vaping.
“Stomach was clear, everything was fine, but he had tears and ulcers in his esophagus from vaping,” said Griffin.
Her son, Max, was starting his sophomore year the first time he tried an e-cigarette.
“I was with two of my friends and they went and bought some. I was real shaky about it and I didn’t want to do it and I just gave in one time,” said Max.
But, that’s all it took. Max liked the feeling he got from vaping, and the high concentration of nicotine meant it didn’t take long for him to get addicted.
“It got to the point at school where I was like, ‘I need it,’ and I just started shaking, couldn’t concentrate on anything. I could feel the mental addiction where I felt like I need it right now,” said Max.
Yet even then, his mom had no idea.
“I think that I am the smartest mom and I know what’s going on and we have a very open dialogue, but I didn’t ask,” said Griffin
She didn’t ask because she didn’t suspect it.
“I can tell now if someone has smoked a cigarette 10 hours ago. I can smell it on them. With vaping, there’s nothing. I couldn’t smell it in his car. I couldn’t smell it in his room. It totally dissipates, so that’s why they are doing it in the bathrooms at school,” said Griffin.
Max used e-cigarettes heavily for about a year.
“It just got to be a habit to where I wouldn’t even realize that I’m doing it anymore. I would just pick it up not even for the buzz anymore. It was just something I did,” said Max. “It wasn’t until a couple weeks ago when I finally started throwing up blood that I felt that this isn’t right.”
Seeing her child suffer like that drove Erin to action. She posted a warning on Facebook to other parents and started asking questions about how vape products were getting in the hands of children. She learned the kids knew the gas stations that don’t card, and the older kids that would buy e-cigarettes for them, and failing that, how to get them online.
“That’s where I find out a bunch of kids are getting them, the Juuls, the whole package, by mail. I had no idea. I find out something new everyday, and I really thought that I was with it,” said Griffin.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has made it her mission to shut down the online sites. She sent a warning letter to 100 of them last week and filed a lawsuit against three , including TheVapeco.Com. The company is based out of Arizona.
“They are not verifying the age of the purchasers, so we have young people that are able to order vape products online and get them delivered to their door step,” said Rutledge.
The Arizona business did not want to answer questions, but the owner sent the following statement. “I acquired a copy and have a message in with the Arkansas attorney General to resolve this immediately. We have also turned off the site until we can determine what has happened and what actions need to be taken.”
“We believe that some of these companies unfortunately just didn’t know that their products were being purchased by young people. However, ignorance is not a pass when it comes to the law,” said Rutledge.
It’s also not a pass for parents. Erin and Max talk openly about vaping today. He estimates 70 percent of kids in his class vape, even now knowing what happened to him.
“My friends are stubborn. They don’t listen. I mean a few of them, yeah, it just got too expensive and then that happened, so it was the right time to quit for some of them. But others, you know that addiction is still there. It’s still kicking,” said Max.