Vaping has been touted as a way to help smokers quit their nicotine addiction — or at the very least, reduce it.
But many teens who would never consider smoking cigarettes see nothing wrong with vaping.
They think it’s somehow harmless and cool, and the popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping devices is soaring among middle school and high school students.
In 2018, 3.6 million kids in that age group were users of e-cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an increase of 1.5 million students from the year before.
This is a deadly, upward trend that needs to drop quickly.
We hope a one-two punch from the Washington state Legislature and from U.S. health officials will get older kids off their vaping kick, and keep younger kids from even starting down this risky path.
Last April, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation which will make it illegal to sell or even give tobacco or vaping products to people under the age of 21.
The new Tobacco 21 law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Vocal opponents said it isn’t right to keep 18-year-olds from buying cigarettes and vaping devices. Turn 18 and you are considered an adult, they said, and you can vote and be sent to war. This is government interference at its worst, they argue.
But if people have to wait until age 21 to buy alcohol and marijuana, then for the sake of public health it makes sense to be consistent and add tobacco products to the list.
And in light of recent news stories, the new law makes even more sense.
Last week, Washington state’s first vaping-related illness was reported by state health officials.
A King County teen was treated in early August at a Seattle-area hospital for acute-respiratory failure due to toxin inhalation. The teen, who reportedly used vaping devices for three years, has since recovered.
The case is significant because there has been a recent surge in vaping-related illnesses across the country, and the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are monitoring all reports of severe lung diseases that could be attributed to vaping and using e-cigarette products.
More than 450 possible cases have been reported in 33 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with six deaths confirmed in six states including Oregon and California, according to news reports. Such high numbers of vaping-related illnesses are staggering, especially since so many teens believe the practice is relatively safe.
Thanks to decades of prevention efforts, most kids are aware of the dangers of smoking cigarettes. There also is a social stigma — and an odor — attached to the habit.
But that stigma does not seem to apply to vaping.
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a nicotine solution, producing vapors the user inhales. Unlike cigarette smoke, these vapors smell good, which is probably a reason vaping is so attractive to kids.
In addition to nicotine, cannabis and other chemicals can be added. In the case of the King County teen, saffron was reportedly in the mix.
Who knows what else kids might be inhaling? Just because it is in liquid-vapor form, doesn’t make it safer.
Nicotine is bad enough, with the CDC affirming it is harmful to the developing teen brain, and can affect learning, mood and impulse control.
Between the upcoming new Tobacco 21 law and the numerous reports of lung illnesses and deaths related to vaping products, we hope teens soon get the message that inhaling anything other than air is risky and definitely uncool.