Six people have died of a mysterious lung illness linked to e-cigarettes and approximately 380 people in 36 states have suffered vaping-related respiratory illnesses, including many teens and young adults who had to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State and federal health officials have issued warnings about the dangers of e-cigarettes in the wake of the hospitalizations, all of which have occurred in the last two months.
“While many people consider vaping to be a less dangerous alternative to smoking cigarettes, it is not risk-free,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement, noting that the Health Department is actively investigating 11 cases of vaping-related lung-disease in New York State. “These latest reports of pulmonary disease in people using vaping products in New York and other states are proof that more study is needed on the long-term health effects of these products.”
More than 3.6 million young people in the United States use e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, far more than the 280,000 estimated in 2011. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office declared the situation a public health epidemic among youth, and, like the American Lung Association and other major organizations, has issued warnings about the dangers of e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices with a heating element that turns liquid from a refillable cartridge into an aerosol that the user inhales. The aerosol is often filled with nicotine and other substances, and may contain flavorings and coloring. E-cigarettes are also known as vape pens, hookah pens, vaporizers and e-pipes. The American Lung Association says inhaling ingredients found in e-cigarettes may expose people to high levels of toxins, which can cause irreversible lung damage and lung diseases. Also, the nicotine found in many e-cigarettes is an addictive drug, just as it is in regular cigarettes, and can stunt the development of the adolescent brain and increase the risk for future drug addiction.
To better understand how vaping can affect your health, Health Matters spoke with Dr. Brendon Stiles, an associate attending cardiothoracic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine.