A new source of concern for our youth has emerged as of late, stemming from small devices no larger than a pencil or a nail file: electronic cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are handheld, battery-powered vaporizers, made as an alternate to burning tobacco like cigarettes.
Users inhale aerosol, otherwise known as vapor, and there are countless variations and types.
The popular brands include Juul, Blu, Smok, Phix, Suorin and numerous others. The majority of these brands market themselves as cessation devices for users to quit smoking cigarettes.
However, the “vaping epidemic” has parents and adults nationwide concerned about their children using and becoming addicted to e-cigarettes.
“Recent increases in the use of e-cigarettes is driving increases in tobacco product use among youth,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on their website. “The number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018—a difference of about 1.5 million youth.”
In addition to the widespread underage use, a warning was issued this month regarding lung disease.
“CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments, and other clinical and public health partners are investigating a multistate outbreak of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product (devices, liquids, refill pods, and/or cartridges) use,” the CDC said on their website on Sept. 12.
There have been 380 reported cases of lung illness and seven deaths in the United States, according to Fox News, and all individuals reported a history of using e-cigarettes or vaping.
However, the connection between the devices and the diseases/deaths remains unclear.
In fact, the majority of cases reported using vaping products that also contain illicit tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), according to an FDA press release on Sept. 9.
The Trump administration proposed banning all flavored e-cigarette products last week as a way to prevent youth vaping, as the common belief held is that the flavors such as mango, cream, cucumber and other fruit flavors attract a younger population.
Nebraska is also taking steps to regulate vaping, including a recent ban officially implemented on Wednesday, Sept. 18 in Grand Island.
Teresa Anderson, a Creighton nursing graduate and the director of the Central District Health Department in Grand Island, said this ban eradicates the concern of secondhand exposure.
“We don’t have all of the facts yet that would tell us that [secondhand exposure] is definitely hazardous to people’s health, but we have an idea that if it’s that hazardous to individuals inhaling it, then what does it do for the folks around that person and those bystanders who don’t care to be exposed to those chemicals?” Anderson said.
She added that passing the ban was smooth and widely unopposed, because of the fact that the city already has an ordinance outlawing any sort of smoking in public places. All the city council had to do was add e-cigarettes to the ordinance.
Nebraska’s current statewide smoking regulations outlaw smoking indoors in any public place or place of employment, under the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act.
According to Anderson, the consequences of vaping in public in Grand Island will most likely begin with a warning, and upon additional reports, the second offense would fine the violator $100 and the third $500.
She added that Nebraska is looking at a statewide ban of vaping in public that will be on the next legislative agenda. A study session will be conducted in the coming weeks in Grand Island so citizens can voice their opinions as well.
“We’ve got a lot of young adults who are vaping right now who need to stop because we don’t know exactly how individuals have been getting sick,” Anderson said.
As a tobacco-free university, Creighton strictly prohibits e-cigarettes of any kind, and violators will be issued a citation by Public Safety.
“Monitoring of e-cigarettes can be challenging,” said Angela Maynard, the associate director for Student Health Education and Student Insurance. “Vaping doesn’t generate a smell.”
However, as of right now, there haven’t been any vaping-related illnesses reported within the Creighton community.
“At this point, it is reasonable to note that University officials are not aware of any vaping-related illness in our current student population,” Maynard said.
She added that the American College Health Association is “collecting data to determine what programs exist to combat vaping.”
“The effects from vaping are still being understood,” Maynard said. “There have been stories all over social media in the past months about college students who have become critically ill with lung disease that is being attributed to vaping. The CSC is working with state and local health departments to investigate.”
Michael Reiner, senior director of Public Safety, said his main apprehension is illegal use of THC oil in vapes.
“Possession of THC oil or wax is illegal and could result in a felony arrest in Omaha,” Reiner said. “The FDA and CDC report that most of the people reporting vaping-related illnesses used THC in their vape pens. I recommend that people follow the advice of the FDA and CDC—stop vaping.”
Mohammad Siahpush, the Associate Dean for Research at the College of Public Health at University of Nebraska Medical Center, said he is not aware of any vaping-related illness studies that have been conducted at UNMC or in Nebraska.