According to multiple health professionals, vaping and e-cigarettes may be turning into a national epidemic with at least one person put in a medically induced coma and three deaths, one in Minnesota, that have been linked to vaping.
The Center for Disease Control said there are over 450 cases of lung damage linked to vaping across the county.
The Minnesota Department of Health said Minnesota had 17 confirmed cases that are linked to the vaping lung disease outbreak with 15 currently under investigation.
A survey of over 44,000 students conducted by the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said 37 percent of 12th-graders reported vaping in 2018, compared to 28 percent in 2017.
A presentation by Alisha Fussy, health educator/SHIP coordinator from Mille Lacs County Community Health, to the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners highlighted the risks associated with vaping and that vaping isn’t just harmless water vapor.
Vaping products can contain nicotine, volatile organic compounds, cancer causing chemicals, heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead along with ultrafine particles and flavoring like diacetyl, a chemical that has been linked to lung disease, she said.
A Minnesota youth tobacco survey found a 50 percent increase of high school students who used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days from 2014 to 2017.
Part of the allure of vaping products is they can come in multiple flavors like mango or strawberry banana, stated Fussy, adding that multiple local governments throughout the country have previously enacted restrictions on flavored tobacco due to the increased risk of minors trying tobacco due to the more palatable taste that flavoring brings to those products.
Vaping among Mille Lacs children
Fussy said vaping products are being confiscated in Mille Lacs area schools with kids hiding them in backpacks or in the hood of a sweatshirt. Vaping products can be small and discreet, mimicking a USB drive.
Students 18 or older have begun a black market as well, selling them to children as young as fourth-graders for $12 to $16 a pod, which has the equivalent nicotine amount as one pack of cigarettes, said Fussy.
“Some report using two to three times per day, and they don’t have to hide it because it’s vaporless and looks like a USB,” said Fussy.
With vaping products having been on the market for over a decade, people are finding out that they are causing permanent scarring to lungs with the lungs not being able to heal like damage from a traditional cigarette, according to Fussy.
“Once the scarring happens, it’s done,” said Fussy.
The flavoring chemical Diacetyl is safe to digest but is not safe to inhale and has been linked to cancer and immediate irreversible damage to lungs, according to Fussy.
Fussy said three Isanti students overdosed on nicotine from vaping in school and were found unconscious.
Some vaping products have been known to overheat and explode, like in the case of William Eric Brown of Fort Worth, Texas, who died in January of a stroke caused by a severed artery from a vaporizer pen explosion.
E-cigarette use also leads to an increased risk of addiction to tobacco, drugs and alcohol according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
According to a Minnesota adult tobacco survey, three in four young adult e-cigarette users had never used tobacco before.
Nicotine addiction can happen quickly from e-cigarette use due to the high concentrations of nicotine in nicotine salt technology which allows for quicker absorption in the lungs and brain according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Over 62 percent of Mille Lacs County ninth-graders reported using some type of tobacco products within the last 30 days according to a 2016 Minnesota student survey with e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes being equal. Chewing tobacco topped the list with over 43 percent of ninth-graders reported using within the last 30 days.
That same survey showed tobacco use among 11th-graders in Mille Lacs County being higher than was reported statewide.
Over 20 percent of Mille Lacs County 11th-graders reported using e-cigarettes compared to over 17 percent statewide, and over 14 percent reported cigarette use compared to over 8 percent statewide.
The primary investor of JUUL, which controls about three-fourths of the e-cigarette market, is Altria Group Inc. which makes Marlboro cigarettes.
There are currently multiple lawsuits against JUUL and Altria which accuse the companies of making JUUL deliberately addictive.
So far, 26 cities and counties have raised the tobacco age to 21 which Fussy said could lower the rate of tobacco use among children.
Most recently, the cities of Mankato and Rochester made such a move, as well as the Isanti County Board voting to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21.
The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners is also making progress to raise the age.
“The reason we are on board with it is because my daughter has run out of the bathroom because people are using [vape products] in the bathroom,” said Commissioner Genny Reynolds, who added that students aren’t using the bathroom because vaping has become so prevalent in them.
The board gave direction to spend staff time on a possible ordinance to restrict sales to those who are 21 years and older, with a consensus to move forward.