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Vaping, Lung Disease and Your Teen—What Parents Need to Know

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Dr. Meg Meeker

E-cigarettes have been a hot topic in health-related news over the last few weeks. This summer we have seen six deaths possibly related to vaping and 380 cases of vaping-related respiratory illnesses across the country. 

In response, my home state of Michigan has already banned flavored e-cigarettes and New York may be next with several other states considering similar legislation. President Trump recently announced that his administration is working to ban flavored e-cigarettes on a national level. This health crisis is serious and is even more critical because teens are some of the most prominent e-cigarette and vaping users. 

Five million minors have reported using e-cigarettes recently. Of high school students in the U.S., one-quarter say they vaped in the last month. Although the legal age to buy e-cigarettes is 18 or 21, depending on the state, teens can easily buy them online, and vaping devices can come in the form of a pen or flash drive, so they are easy to hide at school and in public. (JUUL is one of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes known for their flash-drive shaped vaping devices. They’ve come under a lot of scrutiny with the FDA and CDC and have been accused of marketing to underage users.

If you have a teen, you need to understand the risks of e-cigarettes and vaping and you need to be taking it seriously. Arm yourself with knowledge so you can protect your child from these substances he has ready access to. Here’s some of what we know so far about e-cigarettes, vaping and their related illnesses. 

THC is high on the radar but isn’t the only culprit. 

A study conducted by the Northeast Journal of Medicine found that among 53 e-cigarette users who were diagnosed with similar respiratory illnesses, 84% were using THC-based products. (THC is the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects.) The CDC has reported similar findings with patients who used THC products. 

It’s important to note though, in that same study, 17% only used nicotine products and 44% used both THC and nicotine products. So just because the e-cigarette product doesn’t have THC doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. 

Banning flavors helps the problem but doesn’t solve it. 

Although there is talk of nationally banning flavored e-cigarettes, which many consider the reason so many teens are vaping, this may not deter all teens. Companies have already limited their distribution of e-liquid flavors, but that just led to higher sales of mint and menthol e-cigarettes, which are still sold by e-cigarette and vaping manufacturers. 

Even if national legislation passes, parents still need to be aware that some teens may still be able to buy mint- or menthol-based products, or they may simply be willing to continue vaping without the flavors. 

The CDC orders no use for teens. Period.

The CDC has declared e-cigarettes to be dangerous for teens, children and young adults. Period. They don’t suggest using it in moderation. They say not to use it at all. 

So, what can you do? Talk to your teen. Even if you don’t think she’s doing it, her friends likely are and she needs to know the risk factors. While researchers are still determining exactly what is causing these respiratory illnesses, the link to e-cigarettes is undeniable, and your child should not be using them. 

To keep up with the CDC’s findings on this lung disease outbreak, visit their website at CDC.gov.

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