The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reports 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping. The agency Friday also confirmed six deaths because of e-cigarettes.
Until recently, most teens weren’t concerned about vaping. In fact, one brand of e-cigarettes, Juul, advertised that vaping was safer than regular cigarettes, but vaping is what sent Adam Hergenreder to the hospital.
“I’m 18 years old and my lungs are like a 70-year-old’s,” he said.
Many teens have no idea what chemicals they are inhaling, according to Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician.
“Every time they vape, and bring this aerosol into their lungs, it’s not water vapor,” he said, “it has chemicals, including aldehydes and special alcohols that are produced as a result of heating these solvents that are in the vaping liquids.”
In looking at 150 different e-liquids, scientists found about 200 different chemicals. The effect on the body is unknown. The chemicals are approved by a government agency, but they are approved for consumption, not for inhaling.
A study at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that vaping causes changes in the lungs similar to the changes found in smokers with emphysema.
Professor Robert Tarran led the study. Tarran said he found proteins called proteases in the lungs of some vapers.
“The best way to describing them are they are molecular scissors, so proteasers are proteins that cut up other proteins,” Tarran said by Skype.
Having some proteases in the lungs is normal. But Tarran says proteases increase with lung damage.
“What we found is that these protease levels were up to the same amount in vapers’ lungs as in smokers’ lungs.”
Tarran said nicotine in the vape liquid is connected to high protease levels in the lungs.
It’s too soon for studies to determine the long-term effects of vaping, or whether teens, whose lungs are still growing, are more vulnerable to bad outcomes than adults who vape.
In the meantime, the CDC says “people should consider not using e-cigarette products” while it investigates the soaring number of illnesses and the deaths.
Other medical groups are using stronger language. The American Medical Association is urging the public to avoid the use of e-cigarette products.
And the National Association of County and City Health Officials is calling for swift action to eliminate youth vaping.