There’s More Than One Vape Crisis To Solve

By Kelly Burch 10/17/19

“I see it as three trains on three parallel train tracks,” says one medical expert.

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While the nation is focused on finding a solution to the vaping health emergency, one health professional says that we need to focus on addressing three separate vaping-related issues, rather than lumping them together into one problem. 

“I see it as three trains on three parallel train tracks,” lung medical oncologist Dr. Peter Shields told Rolling Stone. “One of the trains is what’s going on right now, with these people getting really sick, really fast. The second train is the long-term health effects of electronic cigarettes or THC cigarettes… and the third train is kids and flavors.”

Shields, the deputy director of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that it’s yet unclear how the problems relate to each other, and whether they intersect. 

He said, “We know almost nothing about this right now,” including, “where these train tracks merge.”

Vaping-Related Illness

In regards to what’s causing the vaping crisis, there is come consensus that vitamin E acetate is at least in part to blame. Although vitamin E acetate is harmless in most circumstances, it can be poison in the lungs. The substance has been found in many of the cartridges used by people with vape-related illness.  

However, vitamin E can’t be the only explanation, since it’s not present in all cases. In addition, most cases have involved people who vape THC, but 22% of cases do not involve THC products. 

Other reports indicated that the damage to vape-users' lungs resembles chemical burns, not damage caused by vitamin E acetate. 

Long-Term Effects Of E-Cig Use

Shields said that all of this is complicated by the fact that e-cigarettes have not been around very long, and it could take decades to truly understand their harms.

“With smoking-related diseases, you don’t know the effects til 20 years or more. So we won’t know the effects of e-cigarettes for 20 years or more,” he said. 

Vapes have been praised as a safer way for adult smokers to indulge. However, Shields cautioned, “safer is different than safe.”

Alex Clark, CEO of the lobbying group Consumer Advocates for a Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, said that he expects some people will return to traditional cigarette use, because they are concerned about the safety of vapes. Many others will keep vaping, he said. 

“These products have helped millions of people quit smoking and that alone is enough to preserve them [on the market],” said Clark.

Even with all the mystery around vaping, Shields said that bans on the products are a knee-jerk reaction. 

He said, “So many people think ‘Oh, with this lung toxicity we should ban e-cigs.’ But we’re mixing issues because we don’t even have all the science yet.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.