Children as young as 11 years old are vaping and being hospitalized in New Jersey, an even younger age than reported a year ago, according to a report released Thursday by the state’s hospitals.
The use of e-cigarettes peaks in New Jersey between ages 18 and 24, even as the availability of dessert- and fruit-flavored vaping products pushes the trend into middle-school and younger grades.
Hospital data shows that in 2018, “detection of e-cigarette use begins around age 13,” the association reported. “The 2019 data shows incidence beginning around age 11.”
The report should “sound the alarm,” said Cathleen Bennett, the association’s president and CEO. “Vaping companies are creating addiction in a brand new generation.”
The patients counted were not necessarily hospitalized because of a vaping-related illness; the numbers reflect any use of vaping products documented in hospital records. Records analyzed included all New Jersey hospital patients at emergency departments and admitted as in-patients.
Although vaping was not the cause of most of their hospitalizations, many of the patients went to the hospital because of chest pain, fainting, or substance use disorders, diagnoses that have been associated with patients who had vaping-related lung injuries, Bennett said.
New Jersey will likely see nearly 16,000 hospitalized patients report use of e-cigarettes this year, more than double the number as recently as two years ago, the New Jersey Hospital Association reported. The increase reflects both rising use and better documentation when patients enter the hospital.
“We’re more aware and people are using it more,” said Dr. Joseph Underwood, chairman of emergency medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center. Earlier this year, the Hackensack ED treated an adult patient with vaping-related respiratory failure who was admitted to the intensive care unit, he said.
Of all the New Jersey hospital patients this year whose records showed they had vaped, around 2,000 were aged 18 to 24, and 300 aged 10 to 17, said Sean Hopkins, the senior vice present of the association’s Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation.
The only way we are going to understand the increased prevalence of vaping-related illness that is showing up in our hospitals is to understand who is using e-cigarettes and when they are introduced to these products,” Bennett said. “We are surely under-counting the scope of this issue.”
In New Jersey, 57 patients have been diagnosed with vaping-related illnesses and one has died since an outbreak associated with e-cigarette use was first reported earlier this year. Nationally, 1,888 patients have confirmed or probable lung injuries due to vaping and 37 have died, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.
The state’s Electronic Smoking Device Task Force, appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy in response to the vaping crisis, has recommended banning the sale of flavored vapes, increasing penalties for unauthorized sales, creating a centralized state retail registry and prohibiting advertising and sale of products used to hide vaping devices from the prying eyes of parents and teachers.
Hackensack Meridian Health recently announced a $1 million statewide initiative to combat vaping, and gave its first grant of $7,000 to the Point Pleasant Borough School District.
Hospitals first began documenting e-cigarette use in patient records in May 2017. More consistent reporting, along with further research, is needed, Hopkins said.
The hospital association’s report also showed that:
- E-cigarette use is overwhelmingly male in New Jersey.
- It is most common among black and white populations, and least common among Asians and Hispanics.
- Middlesex County showed the highest use of e-cigarettes reported by hospitalized patients.
- Nicotine dependence peaks among people aged 45 to 54.
Lindy Washburn/North Jersey