Health officials: Kids risk their health with interest in vaping

According to a press release issues by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, from 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use spiked 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students. (Courtesy photo)

This is part two in a two-part series regarding vaping-associated issues in Michigan.

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — While many e-cigarette users may not be feeling sick now, officials say kids are risking their health as they are drawn to vape flavors such as apple juice, bubble gum and Nerds, assuming e-cigarette products are healthier than regular cigarettes.

“I hate to use the term ‘healthier’ to describe e-cigarettes, because there is nothing healthy about cigarettes or e-cigarettes,” Spectrum Health emergency department medical director Dr. Adam Kelly said.

Though e-cigarette users may believe vaping is healthier than smoking regular cigarettes, a recent vaping-related death in Illinois has left health officials wondering what e-cigarette consumers are putting in their mouths, and worried for kids who have been drawn to these products.

“My kids and their friends are teenagers, and they keep telling me vaping is fine. They think it’s flavored water,” Big Rapids regional manager in nursing education Amy Wirick said. “I just want to tell them, ‘No, guys, it’s not fine. Your vape juice has chemicals in it.'”

From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use spiked 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students. In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. kids, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students were regular users, according to a press release issued by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. These rates still are climbing, the press release stated.

“Artificial flavorings that are known to be harmful to the body are used in these devices,” Ten16 Mecosta/Osceola Recovery Network prevention coordinator Shay Tullar said. “Even when the chemicals used may be FDA-approved, it is important to note they are approved for consumption into the digestive tract. This does not mean they are approved for inhalation into the lungs. We are still learning what this difference means to the body.”

E-Cig Outlet manager Nick Krave doesn’t feel e-cigarettes have affected his health for the worse. However, after picking up cigarette-smoking habit at 13, Krave also doesn’t see e-cigarettes as a product for kids.

“E-cigarettes are to try to get adults to stop smoking cigarettes. So, they are used as a smoking-cessation device,” he said. “Looking back now, I don’t see the point of picking up on bad habits at a young age.”

Krave said one of his responsibilities as a manager is to ensure the store is following e-cigarette regulations, as well as keeping the products out of kids’ hands.

“We check all IDs, but we can’t really control what happens outside of E-Cig Outlet,” Krave said. “We do our job on this end and hope other people will do theirs.

“If you can prevent it, do it. We don’t want to corrupt the youth and get them hooked on an addictive substance. It’s not good for them, it’s just not.”

In an effort to protect kids from the effects of vaping, Whitmer banned flavored nicotine vaping products Sept. 4.

“As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe,” Whitmer stated in a press release. “And right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief these products are safe. That ends today. Our kids deserve leaders who are going to fight to protect them. These bold steps will finally put an end to these irresponsible and deceptive practices and protect Michiganders’ public health.”

As well as enticing flavors, Tullar has seen vape juice sold in bright colors, piquing the interests of younger children and causing them to end up in hospitals with nicotine poisoning.

“Some juices contain chemicals that enhance the effect of the nicotine as well,” Tullar said. “Youth brains are more susceptible to nicotine and other substances, so they have a higher likelihood of developing an addiction than adults using the same products.”

One e-cigarette cartridge, according to Tullar, can contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, noting youth have reported easily consuming a pod in less than one day.

“Vaping is becoming a part of the culture of today’s youth, and the pressure is on them at an increasingly early age to try these products,” Tullar said. “It is common for these devices to be passed between friends, so regulating what they are using is highly improbable.”

Tullar said a high percentage of youth who vape also are using the e-cigarette devices to smoke marijuana, as it does not emit the same odor as a marijuana joint or pipe would.

“We often hear parents state things like ‘I would rather they be vaping, and know what they’re doing, than have them go out and use other things I don’t know about. At least, if I’m providing this, I can control what they’re using and keep them safer,'” Tullar said. “The FDA has only had its hand in the vaping industry for a couple of years. Many vape juices that claim to be nicotine-free, still test positive for nicotine. Nicotine concentrations in vape juice are often higher than they are in regular cigarettes.

“We want parents to understand that even though there is a lot we are still learning about these devices, we know they are not safe for kids and teens.”

One way E-Cig Outlet is preventing underage vaping is by requiring each customer to present their ID at the register. (Pioneer photo/Alicia Jaimes)

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