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Shanti Akers

Recently, the Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed the state’s third death from a vaping-linked illness. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed nearly 2,000 lung injury cases associated with the use of vaping products. With the popularity of vaping among children and teens, this is a serious health concern, and all parents need to educate themselves about it.

E-cigarettes or vape pens have often been considered a safer alternative to cigarettes, and we have seen a dramatic rise in vaping over the last few years. In particular, there has been an increase in middle school and high school students using e-cigarettes with the most recent data suggesting about 3.62 million students are current e-cigarette users.

So, what are these devices? They are battery-powered smoking devices with cartridges that may contain nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals that are heated to create a vapor that can be inhaled. E-cigarettes started as an attempt to help smokers wean off of harmful cigarettes; however, they can be just as addictive as traditional tobacco cigarettes.

There has been limited regulation of these products by the Food and Drug Administration, making it difficult for doctors to approve their use for patients. Only in 2016 did the FDA even provide any guidelines for their manufacturing.

Although we do not fully understand the precise causes of the vaping-related deaths and illnesses, most patients have used their own vaping concoctions or products that were obtained “off the street.” All patients have one common symptom, which is severe respiratory distress resulting in a need for hospitalization and often the use of a support device such as a mechanical ventilator. These devices do the work of breathing for the patient. The only treatments that seem to have any impact are steroids and time.

All cases are being reported to the CDC so that doctors and federal and state health officials can work together to understand who are most vulnerable and how to treat them.

Even before this illness outbreak, the long-term risks of e-cigarette use were not clear. What is clear, however, is that the nicotine contained in these products can harm adolescent brain development, and the ongoing illness outbreak only increases the risks of vaping for young people. I encourage every parent or guardian to take time to explain the dangers of vaping to the young adults in their lives to help protect their good health.

Dr. Shanti Akers is a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at Phoebe Pulmonology in Albany.

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