The Vaping Epidemic and Fatal Lung Injuries


By Michael Rass

Although e-cigarettes have been around for more than a decade, vaping rates have dramatically increased in recent years, particularly among teens. According to the Child Mind Institute, “e-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents—some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017—far surpassing traditional combustible cigarettes.”

The Food and Drug Administration announced new steps in September to address the “epidemic of youth e-cigarette use,” issuing “more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money penalty complaints (fines) to retailers who illegally sold JUUL and other e-cigarette products to minors.” The Surgeon General warns that nicotine is harmful to children and young adults. “E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine as well as other chemicals that are known to damage health. For example, users risk exposing their respiratory systems to potentially harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes.”

Vaping products have risen in popularity among teenagers and young adults because they are considered a safer alternative to traditional smoking and provide a clandestine means of using marijuana. In a 2017 state survey, 27 percent of Colorado youths reported using e-cigarette products—the picture is not much different in other states. Vaping is also endemic among young adults in their twenties and thirties.

The popularity of vaping co-evolved with the widespread perception that marijuana use is harmless. In recent months, too many young Americans had to learn the hard way that neither vaping nor cannabis use is without risk, especially when the two are combined.

Colorado is now one of several states investigating severe lung injury associated with vaping. There have been at least nine cases in the Centennial State. Colorado parents Ruby and Tim Johnson told CBS that vaping nearly took their daughter’s life. Piper Johnson was diagnosed with Colorado’s first case of a vaping-related illness. The first-year college student had been vaping for more than two years.

As of October 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1888 vaping-related lung-injury cases in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one US territory. Thirty-seven deaths have been confirmed in 24 states. Early symptoms of these lung injuries include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Medically, it’s still unclear exactly what is going on. “Despite the accumulating data on the clinical and imaging features of vaping-associated lung injury, its pathology is poorly understood,” a number of Mayo Clinic specialists wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in October. They did discover, however, that all of the cases they studied “had a history of vaping, with 71 percent of them having used marijuana or cannabis oils.”

The CDC currently recommends refraining from using e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis). Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker took the drastic step of declaring a public health emergency and banning in-store and online sales of vaping products in the Commonwealth through January 25, 2020. On the same day, California health officials issued an advisory asking residents to immediately refrain from using e-cigarette devices until a statewide investigation into the risks associated with vaping is completed.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is investigating all cases reported to them and advises that “the best way to protect yourself against vaping-related illness is to stop vaping.”

“Findings from other states show that most people who got sick used THC-only products or both THC and nicotine products. That is true in Colorado as well, but because the long-term health effects of vaping are unknown and as information on the illness emerges, our best advice is to consider not using vaping products.”

Coloradans who think they may have been sickened by any vaping product should contact their doctor, local public health agency, or poison control at 1-800-222-1222.

Harmony Foundation supports long-term behavioral change. When clients choose our program for recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, they are taught coping skills to help them avoid all addictive substances and embrace a healthy lifestyle. This is why we do not support vaping on campus and provide recovery skills classes that teach healthy choices.

Replacing alcohol or opioid misuse with increased nicotine intake is not a good idea. True recovery goes beyond abstinence from illicit drugs and alcohol. The goal of addiction treatment at Harmony is a comprehensive body-mind-spirit reset. The cessation of substance misuse is only one aspect of that reset.


CDPHE information on vaping and lung illness

Surgeon General’s fact sheet on vaping.

Recovering Addicts Beware! Many E-Cigarettes Contain Alcohol

If your program of recovery involves attending 12 Step meetings, then it is highly likely you have seen people puffing on e-cigarettes – devices that vaporize liquid containing nicotine for inhalation. Over the last few years, many cigarette smokers have experimented with e-cigarettes. In some cases people have stopped using traditional tobacco products in favor of ‘vaping;’ in other cases people will use the devices concurrently with tobacco. While there remains to be little conclusive research on e-cigarettes as effective smoking cessation devices, there are a number of health experts that believe they are likely to be less harmful to your health than cigarettes.

Whether or not e-cigs are safer than cigarettes may be a moot point, at least when it comes to people in recovery. New research indicates that many commercial vaping products contain small levels of alcohol, enough alcohol to affect motor skills, CNBC reports. Researchers at Yale University found that about three-quarters of commercial e-cigarette liquids (tested) contained less than 1 percent alcohol. The finding was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The researchers tested two groups of people, one using an e-cigarette with higher alcohol content and the other group using a device with lower levels, according to the article. While both groups reported not feeling any different, the group that vaporized an e-liquid with higher levels of alcohol showed a worse performance when given psychomotor tests.

“They didn’t actually know they were under the influence of alcohol,” said study co-author Dr. Mehmet Sofuoglu, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “It still influenced their performance.” 

The findings are especially troubling when you consider that many of the people in recovery who use commercial e-cigarettes may be unsuspectingly exposed to alcohol. It is highly recommended that people working a program of recovery avoid any mind altering substance, regardless of how minute the exposure may be; this goes for certain cough syrups, fermented drinks, some mouthwash brands and even certain foods. Even infinitesimal levels of exposure could have an effect that leads to a relapse.

If you are in recovery and would like to continue using your e-cigarette, it is important that you find nicotine liquids that do not contain alcohol.

Using E-Cigarettes to Vaporize Marijuana


Over the last year there has been a lot of discussion about e-cigarettes. Researchers have been working to determine if the devices are safer than traditional cigarettes and/or if they are effective smoking cessation devices. While some research indicates that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes, a panel of experts from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded there isn’t enough evidence to determine if e-cigarettes are safe or effective for smoking cessation.

There are other concerns about e-cigarettes, the devices can be used to vaporize drugs as well. Both recreational marijuana and medical marijuana programs has resulted in a wider variety of marijuana byproducts being available. THC concentrates in the form of oils and waxes are sold at dispensaries and can be be vaporized easily using e-cigarettes.

New research indicates that 1 in 5 high school students report having used using e-cigarettes to vaporize marijuana products, Medical News Today reports. Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, CT surveyed 3,847 students from five high schools in Connecticut.

“This is a relatively novel way of using marijuana, and kids are using it at a fairly high rate,” said Meghan E. Morean, lead author and assistant professor of psychology at Oberlin College.

The study found that 29.2% reported using cannabis and 18.8% reported having used both e-cigarettes and cannabis at some point in their lives, according to the article. The students who had used e-cigarettes to vaporize cannabis included:

  • Around 18% of lifetime e-cigarette users.
  • 18.4% of lifetime cannabis users.
  • 26.5% of e-cigarette and cannabis dual users.

“These findings raise concerns about the lack of e-cigarette regulations and the potential use of e-cigarettes for purposes other than vaping nicotine,” conclude the researchers.

The findings were published in Pediatrics.

If you are or a loved one is abusing marijuana, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery. Harmony is a state-of-the-art, affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the Rocky Mountains.

Addiction and recovery news provided by Harmony Foundation.

How Dangerous is Vaping?

e cigarette addiction

While most drugs are considered dangerous if abused, there are some that become more dangerous when they are masked as being “safe” because they are considered legal and less toxic than similar drugs.

This is the case for the abuse of prescription pills, which is now a national epidemic. Many adults, young adults and teens fell prey to prescription addiction by believing the drugs were safe because they were prescribed by a physician or FDA approved. People perceived that illegal drugs like cocaine or crystal meth were unsafe and prescription drugs were safe despite the comparable addictive qualities of both drug types.

This was also the case for synthetic drugs like bath salts and spice, especially among young adults who could easily purchase them at convenience stores. Many were under the false guise that these drugs were ok because after all, they didn’t even register on drug tests. Soon enough emergency personnel were reporting that these drugs were even more dangerous than commonly abused illegal drugs and their exact health consequences are still unknown.

Most recently the same debate has come up against vaping or e-cigarettes. Because e-cigarettes don’t contain the 60 plus carcinogens that regular tobacco smoke does, they have grown in popularity and perceived as the safer alternative with limited health consequences. Most vapor cigarettes are made with propylene glycol that the FDA has determined are generally safe. However, few know that these chemicals have been deemed safe for personal care products – not for inhaling. Also, few are aware that five minutes of vaping impairs lung function as much as smoking a regular cigarette.

A recent New York Times article outlined the dangers of the liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes, stating, “the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.”

Because the e-liquids are not regulated by the FDA and legal to purchase, people don’t tend to consider their health liability and toxicologists fear that children are particularly at risk of being poisoned. In fact, there have already been several accidental poisonings reported with 1351 cases in 2013, many involving small children who innocently drink the chocolate or bubble gum flavored liquid sitting around the house. The e-liquid is considered more dangerous than tobacco because it is immediately absorbed. Children are not the only group at risk, as many adults have been admitted into hospitals for accidental ingestion. Recently a woman from KY was admitted to the hospital after e-cigarettes broke in her bed and was absorbed through her skin.

Often when addictive substances hit the market unregulated, it takes several poison control center or emergency room incidents to alert the FDA and public that health consequences exist. When addiction is in the driver’s seat, it is impossible for health to remain untethered despite substances being deemed or marketed as “safe” initially. We have observed this through treating all addictions at our Colorado rehab center and know that when it comes to addiction, there are always mental and or physical health consequences for the addict and loved ones.

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