As of Oct. 15, 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 33 deaths among 1,479 lung injuries. The cases span every state but Alaska and the District of Columbia, with numerous cases reported in South Carolina and North Carolina. Almost 80% of the cases of injury have occurred in patients under 35. What is causing this outbreak of injuries? For years now, e-cigarettes have been viewed as a safer alternative to smoking, and many of our patients are asking: Should I go back to smoking cigarettes?
Here what we know so far and what we advise.
The latest figures tell us that vaping products that contain THC - the active ingredient from marijuana - particularly those obtained off the street have played a major role in this outbreak. As such, we advise that vaping products with THC should be stopped.
The FDA began regulating e-cigarettes in 2016, including the marketing of products to help people quit smoking. Since 2018 all e-cigarettes are labeled with the important warning that these products all contain nicotine - the same addictive chemical in tobacco. Most people would be surprised to know that the manufacturers often set the "dose" of nicotine in vaping products to levels that get hooked faster, sooner. For now, that just isn't enough data to support the claim that these vaping products are safe for long-term use. We know vaping can be an important off-ramp for tobacco smokers. We encourage adult vapers to speak with their physicians and to look for ways to wean off vaping. It is common sense that the lungs are just too delicate and fragile to tolerate the repeated contact with the chemicals in e-cigarettes, while the plume of vape looks so innocent.
For our youth and young adults, we have crystal-clear advice: If you haven't vaped yet, don't, and if you do vape, stop now! For youth, vaping is the on-ramp to a lifetime of nicotine and smoking. One in three teens that vape will begin smoking cigarettes six months in. As we write this, almost 40% of high school seniors reported vaping in the preceding 12 months. Even more stunning than that, so have 20% of eighth-graders. Youth shouldn't have to tolerate this assault on their health. We know that they can't afford it, and our communities can't either. We all know what will come next for this generation of new smokers.
We don't yet have all the answers, but as physicians of the community, and for our community, we are taking a stand, now. We are going to look hard for the answers. We are going to work hard to effectively treat the smoking-related illnesses of our current patients. We are going to double down on our efforts to inform our patients, friends and neighbors - and to prevent new health problems in our youth.
Rajesh Bajaj, MD, Oncologist
Wayne Holley, MD, Thoracic
Peter Hyman, MD, Population Health
Vinod Jona, MD, Pulmonologist
Alan Sechtin, MD, Radiologist
and the McLeod Healthier Lungs Initiative Team
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