Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory warning against the use of e-cigarettes after a spike in vaping-related illnesses this summer. In this report, KVCR’s Benjamin Purper speaks with a Loma Linda pulmonologist about the health risks associated with vaping.
In August, public health officials in Illinois announced that a patient died from a mysterious lung illness linked to vaping.
While this was the first death related to the disease, there have now been 193 reported cases in 22 states.
Dr. Laren Tan is the director of the Comprehensive Program for Obstructive Airway Diseases at Loma Linda University Health.
He says figuring out what’s causing the vaping illness will probably hinge on finding out what additives were put into the e-cigarette cartridge.
Tan: “So in the cases of Illinois, I think it's hard to be able to identify specifically what is going to be the cause of it, until they can look at all the different various chemicals, but also just realizing that if these patients or these people who are actually having these issues have underlying lung disease or chronic respiratory or having problems breathing even to begin with, this could definitely make it much worse or potentiate those symptoms they were having previously. Like shortness of breath or cough or fatigue and things like that.”
Mysterious illnesses aside, I asked Tan if e-cigarettes are generally better for lung health than conventional – also called combustible – cigarettes.
Tan: “You know so far at least at this point I'll say that we've got two different varying opinions. The bottom line is that it's still too early to definitively say. Now if we were to compare the amount of chemicals or burnt toxins that you would inhale when you compare combustible versus non-combustible, you're definitely inhaling much less chemicals and toxic fumes with e-cigarettes or the non-combustible cigarettes versus the combustible cigarettes. But then you still come in to a different problem which is still going to be, what are the different additives, how do you consistently figure out what is in each of the different types of flavorings that are out there, or different companies, so I think it's a separate issue. At this time we would say that it is definitely less toxic than what was previously smoked, but what are the long term health and lung effects, we don't know that quite yet.”
Tan says addressing vaping as a public health issue among children and teens requires addressing the issue as more than just the vaping itself. He encourages parents and doctors to look into why kids vape.
Tan: “Because it's so cool, teens are starting to jump onto this, and it's starting to become a really cool factor into it, and that makes it very difficult I think for parents because self-esteem is huge, especially for our younger generation, and unless we actually assess the why, we're going to have a very difficult time in trying to understand what is going with our children. I think that discussion seems to be more meaningful and fruitful rather than just coming up and saying well e-cigarettes are horrible, it's bad for you. Because nowadays I think our teenagers and teens are smart enough to go on the internet and look and go no, there's data that doesn't support this. So I think we need to be just as smart but really address the why with our younger generation.”