What children are inhaling while “vaping” may be a marijuana-related chemical delivered with Vitamin E, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to several deaths and injuries referred to as “popcorn lung.”
About 2.1 million middle and high school students reported having “vaped” in 2017.
“Kids are impulsive; they’re irrational,” Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scatena, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department, told about 24 people gathered to hear her Jan. 9. Her presentation, part of the Tough Talk series in First Presbyterian Theater, was meant to inform parents about what their children were ingesting while vaping.
While “vaping” is the widely used term for the use of electronic cigarettes, marketed as a way for smokers to kick their nicotine habit, no water is used in the process.
“It’s not a mist but an aerosol,” but that doesn’t sound as good, Rosales-Scatena said.
Peer pressure has drawn many children to using the colorfully packaged flavored cartridges, which are heated with a device that looks like a pen. Unlike the tell-tale smell of cigarettes, e-cigarettes’ fruity smell could be mistaken for a body spray by a parent.
“Kids do this because they think it’s less harmful” than tobacco products, Rosales-Scatena said. “It’s less odorous, so they don’t think we know.”
One woman in the audience said her grandson told her about his excitement to try vaping when he’s old enough because of the taste: he’s 12 years old.
However, because children can’t legally purchase the devices, they must get them from dealers, who may not even know what the cartridges they’re selling contain, Rosales-Scatena said. Today’s higher-concentration of THC levels in marijuana is making it highly addictive, something some dealers count on to keep their customer coming back for more, she said.
Police have confiscated vaping cartridges, some rusty, because they have been filled with illegal THC-laced material, she said.
“There’s a lot more coming in as Michigan and Illinois became legal marijuana states,” she said.
After an outbreak of lung injuries, resulting in over four dozen deaths, among e-cigarette users that began in June 2019, results showed that most of the users had vaped THC.
Moving the material in the device requires a carrier oil, and some dealers have used Vitamin E, which shouldn’t be in the lungs. In a CDC telephone news conference in November, Dr. James Pirkle of the CDC’s environmental health labs, said “Vitamin E acetate is enormously sticky. You can think of it to be just like honey.”
Users can develop popcorn lung, a destruction of the organs’ small airways that has also been linked to inhalation of chemicals used to flavor microwave popcorn.
As of early December, over 2,400 people had been hospitalized in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; 52 people had died and most of the patients were 35 and younger, according to the study. The cases peaked in September, according to the CDC.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine analyzed samples from 51 cases from 16 states and found 48 of the patient lung samples contained Vitamin E acetate. Chronic medical conditions, including cardiac disease, chronic pulmonary disease and diabetes could be contributing factors to the lung disease or death, according to CDC.
Colorado and Ohio have since banned Vitamin E in medical marijuana vaping products.
Even vaping cartridges listed as nicotine-free have been found to contain the addictive drug. And each cartridge, which the user might consume in an hour, is equivalent to a package of cigarettes. However, unlike the cigarettes, that amount of vaping won’t make the user sick, but might give them a “buzz” from the nicotine, Rosales-Scatena said. “Kids will ingest 2 and 3 and 4 of these a day, depending on what they can get their hands on. It’s a lot of intake of nicotine.” It’s affecting brain development, which usually isn’t completed until about age 25, “and you are more susceptible to addiction” to other drugs as well, she said. It can make them more impulsive, she said.
“You need to make a qualified, experienced decision of what’s best for your kids and yourself,” she said. “This is just a starting point for you parents ... Have those conversations.”