E-cigarettes are destroying lives and we don’t know why

Once thought harmless, vape pens, Juuls, dab pens and the like are devastating young people around the country — it's time to take note

· Sep 10, 2019 Tweet

Flickr user micadew/ VapingCheap.com

Take a breath — this isn’t yet another Facebook forward from grandma, cautioning you about the dangers of “those electronic cigarettes.” Nor is it a hysterical indictment of teens who should “know better.” You got enough of that in D.A.R.E., or whatever pieces of it remained in your elementary curricula. 

No, to defy expectations, this article isn’t about shocking you with the dangers of vaping. Check out vapes from Smok, here. But you should still be worried — more than worried, even. Because we like our vices a little too much — we always have — and only recently have the consequences for a shifting culture reared their heads. 

E-cigarettes, vape pens, dab pens, nicotine, hash oil, CBD or THC — perhaps one of the most amusing parts of inhalant news coverage is its inability to distinguish between the bunch. Regulate Juul pods, and you run into an obvious problem — they’re not the only thing teens have — or have ever had —to smoke. Walking down State Street at bartime, and the clouds of smoke are as different as the people puffing them — blueberry, citrus CBD, bubble gum, and fresh mint intermingle with the stale smell of Lucky Strikes. 

And, of course, don’t forget the weed, though that’s a given for State Street. Its absence would be surprising. 

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Constructive criticism, from your local news’ investigation team and your mother alike, misses the woods for trees more often than not. States regulated Juuls, in a mindblowing effort to track every single Juul pod sold via barcode, only to find out we hadn’t even scratched the surface. Whether it’s a bootleg weed pen, or a semi-legal THC pen from your local apothecary, the options — really, the oils — are endless. 

The average smoker today is not as blind or naïve as two generations ago were. They know, deep down, every time they crack open a new pack or pod, that there is something inherently dangerous in the action. And, contrary to popular belief, I believe that most e-cigarette smokers know that too, on some level. We were too conditioned by late 1990s PSAs not to wrinkle our noses at the thought of nicotine. 

Yet much of the narrative surrounding e-cigarettes focus on the idea that we have been tricked — coddled and befuddled by candy-floss smoke to know that, with every breath, we are inhaling something unregulated, untested, and risky. 

But we did it anyway. And, for a few years, everything seemed OK. Barring a few thousand nicotine addictions, it was hard to put fact to the fiction in forwards from Grandma. Nobody died. There wasn’t even a peep of danger. 

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Until July 2019. Something changed — something big. And in our home state, nonetheless. 

People started dying. And those who didn’t were crippled by a sudden-onset disease that tore through their lungs, causing irreparable damage. Oxygen saturation dropped, lungs collapsed, children were intubated, and doctors were mystified. 

This was no longer your garden-variety Juul hysteria. In fact, the years-long campaign might have even prolonged the spread of information. Despite patient history of e-cigarette usage, news of a possible connection didn’t make it to other hospitals until almost a month later. But once the line was drawn, the implications were stunning. Uncurbed, the number of patients would undoubtedly rise. 

I prefaced this column with a disclaimer about shocking audiences into action — and I stand by my refusal to do so. But as many ceaselessly remind me, facts “don’t care about your feelings.” So consider the following in a vacuum, and use them to guide your next steps. 

Something has changed in the manufacturing of e-cigarettes of all kinds. It devastates your lungs, felling some of the healthiest young people in the state. And we have no idea why it’s happening.

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If you want to read more about preliminary findings, click here. The New England Journal of Medicine does little editorializing, largely because the details from Wisconsin case studies are more than enough to convey their importance. The outcomes are difficult. 

Until the CDC and a half-dozen other NGOs figure out a root cause, the most irresponsible of us will turn a deaf ear to their warnings. We have been conditioned to ignore the stakes for years, but they have just risen significantly. 

There are more than 112,000 people currently on the donation list for a lung transplant. Where will vaping put you in line? 

Julia Brunson ([email protected]) is a recent graduate with a degree in history.


This article was published Sep 10, 2019 at 9:15 am and last updated Oct 23, 2021 at 6:11 am


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