Dangers of vaping: A resource guide for parents

Stock photo of Vape, Cigarette
Stock photo of Vape, Cigarette

Vaping has often been advertised as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, but its rise among kids and teens has created a new smoking concern.

Last year, a vaping-related lung disease forced state’s to halt sales of vape pens, specifically to minors.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reported the state’s first vaping-related lung injury death in October 2019. There have been two others since then, including one confirmed in January 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as of Jan. 2020, 2,602 cases have been identified in 50 states, the District of Columbia and two territories.

Number of Hospitalized EVALI Cases or Deaths Reported to CDC as of January 21, 2020:

Number of Hospitalized EVALI Cases or Deaths Reported to CDC as of January 21, 2020 (CDC) (CDC)

Read more: Most EVALI Patients Used THC-Containing Products as New Cases Continue To Decline (CDC)

Patients report respiratory issues with some being put on oxygen support, as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. Most of the patients are in their late teens and 20s with no underlying health issues. The only thing patients have in common is vaping.

E-cigarettes or vapes are considered unsafe for kids, teens and young adults, according to the CDC. Here’s some helpful information for parents:

What are E-cigarettes?

Here’s how the CDC defines E-cigarettes:

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol, or mix of small particles in the air. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid.

Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items. Larger devices such as tank systems, or “mods,” do not look like other tobacco products.

E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).”

What are the risks for kids, teens and young adults?

The science on this question is still catching up, but the CDC says some of the ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol could also be harmful to the lungs in the long-term. For example, some e-cigarette flavorings may be safe to eat but not to inhale because the gut can process more substances than the lungs.

Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes. Nationally, approximately 50% of calls to poison control centers for e-cigarettes are for kids 5 years of age or younger, the CDC reports.

Aren’t they safer than cigarettes?

E-cigarettes expose users to fewer harmful chemicals than burned cigarettes. But burned cigarettes are extraordinarily dangerous, killing half of all people who smoke long-term, the CDC says.

Teen e-cig users are more likely to start smoking. (National Institute on Drug Abuse) (National Institute on Drug Abuse)

Vitamin E acetate threat from black market products:

Vitamin E acetate has been called a “very strong culprit" by U.S. health officials in sickening Americans who vape. According to health officials, vitamin E acetate has only recently been used as a thickener in vaping fluid, particularly in black market vape cartridges. Health officials say while vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, inhaling oily droplets of it can be harmful. It’s sticky and stays in the lungs — the CDC’s Dr. Jim Pirkle likened it to honey.

In November, in a step to help regulate vaping products -- specifically ones used for THC inhaling -- the state of Michigan’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) announced it would now require licensed safety compliance facilities to test for vitamin E acetate and that all inactive ingredients added to marijuana products be clearly listed on the product label. The MRA said it will inspect processing facilities twice a month to ensure compliance with these manufacturing standards.

Preventing children from using E-cigarettes:

The CDC’s advice on this is basically to set a good example -- be a good parent.

Get the Talk With Your Teen About E-cigarettes tip sheet for parents. Start the conversation early with children about why e-cigarettes are harmful for them.

How to spot a vape:

Check out the CDC info sheet on how to spot a vaping device.

Study finds e-cigarettes significantly raise risk of chronic lung disease

A study last year found vaping, or using e-cigarettes, significantly raises the risk of chronic lung disease. That is according to the first long-term study on the health effects of vaping.

Researchers tracked more than 32,000 Americans over a three year period. They found e-cigarette users increased their risk of asthma and emphysema by one-third regardless of other tobacco use. The highest risk of lung disease was among people who smoked tobacco and vaped.

Vaping devices: Here’s what parents should know:

Vaping devices: What parents need to know
Vaping devices: What parents need to know

Shelby Township school resource officer Jake Lukas spends the majority of his time in schools.

To this day, he’s still surprised by how many kids are vaping.

“The two things we’re seeing the most now are these kind of USB stick style vapes,” said Lukas. “It’s more widespread than I would have thought. We’ve even had instances where it’s been elementary -- we’ve even seen this stuff all the way down at the elementary level.”

Vaping devices have changed drastically from when vaping began. A modern vaping device is as small as a nonrefillable stick that may look like a USB drive at first glance.

“You use it until it runs out, then you’ll toss it,” said Lukas. “There are a lot of people who think they’re USB drives if they don’t know any better.”

Because these devices are so small, they’re easy to hide. Students are hiding them in waistbands and underwear. Girls have been caught hiding them in their bras.

“Whether it’s their bra strap, or waistband, places they think aren’t going to be searched,” said Lukas.

Parents might recognize the pen-type vaping devices, and kids know that. Kids have been caught taking apart the battery compartment, leaving it behind, and then connecting the exposed wires to an alternative power source.

A pen-style vaping device. (WDIV)

Officer Lucas said parents need to question what they find.

“Why does my kid have this in their pocket? You know, you’re doing their laundry and, ‘Why did I find this? These wires are not normal,’” he said.

The bottom line is vaping is prevalent and teens are addicted. Parents need to know what to look for.

“When I’ve showed them the devices that are out there, they’ve been just shocked. You know what I mean? They were like, ‘I didn’t even know that was out there. I didn’t know that’s what it looked like. I didn’t know that’s what that was,’” said Lukas.

About the Authors:

Ken Haddad is the digital content manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter.

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.