Top Boston pulmonologists say vaping injuries are reaching crisis levels — with one local patient who started vaping in fifth grade — as the CDC reports vape-related lung illness is rising nationwide and a new Dana-Farber study warns of second-hand vape hazards.
Advocates are calling for more government regulation and attention to the issue in schools — with children’s use on the rise despite the ban on e-cigarette sales to anyone under 21 in Massachusetts.
Dr. Alicia Casey, a pulmonologist at Boston Children’s Hospital said she has seen young patients with respiratory illness from vaping every one to two weeks this summer — the youngest, a patient who started vaping in fifth grade and later had acute respiratory failure.
“We have had very very sick patients here on oxygen and intubated … we believe it’s from vaping because that was the exposure and no infection had been found,” Casey told the Herald.
Casey said the number of patients is growing. Vaping, an alternative to smoking, involves using an electronic device to vaporize water and nicotine or other substances such as cannabis extract, delivering stimulants, intoxicants and flavorings to the lungs. While it has been seen as safer than smoking, concerns about the relatively new, little studied technique are on the rise.
“It’s very concerning. I actually think that this is the number one respiratory public health concern in youth and young adults worldwide,” Casey said. “We don’t know what residual lung disease they are going to have left when they recover from this, potentially some could end up on oxygen long term,” said Casey, adding that doctors also don’t yet know if vaping could also cause cancer or negative cardiovascular effects.
There have been 193 potential cases of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarette use in 22 states from June 28 and August 20 of this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A Dana-Farber study released Wednesday found about a third of middle- and high-school students across the nation are exposed to secondhand e-cigarette aerosols in the past year — exposing those children to stimulant-laden water vapor.
Fumes from e-cigarettes contain a variety of chemicals including nicotine, heavy metals, aldehydes, glycerin, and flavoring substances which can be harmful to children and teens, according to the study.
Dr. Sucharita Kher, a pulmonologist at Tufts Medical Center said the vaping epidemic has “exploded,” leaving doctors, parents, teachers and the government to catch up.
“I think this should be a wake up call — if we haven’t done it already we need to double down and work together — parents, kids, physicians, the healthcare community and government together to make a difference,” said Kher who added that kids who vape regularly tend to move on to become frequent smokers of combustible cigarettes.
Meredith Berkman, co-founder of Parents Against Vaping E-Cigs, whose son tried vaping, called the epidemic “terrifying” saying, “We can’t let our children become the next generation of nicotine addicts.”
Berkman said sending kids back to school is like “going into the belly of the beast” because vaping has become such a social norm.
“We know they are ingesting a dangerous cocktail of known toxins at a very high heat,” said Berkman.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health launched a campaign to combat teen vaping in April and they have another one in the works, according to a department spokeswoman.
Alexi Cohan/Boston Herald