Be safe and smart, Pierce County - not seduced by vaping trend

Dr. Anthony L-T Chen is director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
Dr. Anthony L-T Chen is director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Courtesy photo

Washington will take another significant step forward in January to protect youth from the harms of tobacco. That is when the new “Tobacco 21” law takes effect. It raises the age to buy tobacco, nicotine and vaping products to 21.

Local and state lawmakers showed great leadership to protect Washingtonians from these dangerous products.

We urge policymakers and regulators at the local, state, and federal level to pay attention to the pulmonary lung disease outbreak and protect our youth from this emerging public health crisis. The public also needs to take this threat seriously.

As of Sept. 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported seven deaths and 530 illnesses associated with vaped nicotine, THC, CBD and other substances. In Washington, King and Spokane counties have reported cases.

Sadly, these numbers will likely rise. But they do not have to.

Worldwide, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease. Tobacco contains nicotine, which is toxic to people. It is especially dangerous for children and young adults because it harms brain development, which can continue until age 25. Nicotine is highly addictive and can lead to lifetime use.

While our state has made great strides to curb nicotine use, the rise in vaping’s popularity, especially among our youth, is a huge step backwards. In 2018, the U.S. Surgeon General declared vaping an epidemic among youth. Vaping products pose new dangers and have the potential to create a new generation of addicts.

In Pierce County, vaping among school-aged youth is increasing. Results from the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey show 23 percent of county 10th graders reported vaping in the past 30 days. In the 2016 survey, that figure was 14 percent. At the 8th grade level, vaping use has more than doubled.

Here are facts about vaping and your health:

▪  Vaping is unsafe. The current outbreak proves this. The Food and Drug Administration does not know which products or ingredients are causing the illness. Unregulated products can have high variability in their content and quality control. For example, Juul, a popular manufacturer of vapor products, has single cartridges with as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

▪  Vaping is not a proven way to quit smoking. The FDA has not approved vaping as a smoking cessation method. The switch to vaping continues the nicotine addiction.

Along with nicotine, vaping products contain other substances that may appear harmless. These ingredients, like vitamin E, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, have approval from the FDA for consumption. But they undergo chemical changes when vaporized, and researchers have not studied the effects of that on human lungs.

You can spread the facts about vaping to help people in our communities be healthy and safe. The vaping industry heavily markets its products to youth. Tell your children about the serious health risks of vaping.

Educate yourself about the products, which are easy to conceal and can look like something harmless — a flash drive, lipstick or lip gloss.

Find a visual dictionary of vaping devices and substances, information to help you quit smoking, and other public health resources on vaping at www.tpchd.org/vape.

While we do not yet know the specific link between vaping and pulmonary lung disease, we do know many people are getting sick and some are dying.

We urge those who vape to consider their safety. Monitor symptoms (cough, shortness of breath or chest pain) and get medical attention if you have concerns about your health. You should not use any products from unregulated sources or bought off the street.

The outbreak of vaping-related pulmonary disease is a nationwide wake-up call. Until we know more, if you are concerned about these specific health risks, the healthiest option is not to vape or smoke.

Dr. Anthony L-T Chen is director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.