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Not just blowing water — vaping presentation will sort myth and reality

Vaping photo

A woman using a vaping device exhales a vapor trail. Vapor emitted from electronic devices is an aerosol, much of it containing fluids health experts say are potentially harmful.

“We keep calling it vaping, and calling it vapor,” Amy Osterman said. “But it’s an aerosol. It’s more like hairspray.”

That’s an image Osterman, youth marijuana and tobacco prevention coordinator for Walla Walla County’s Department of Community Health, likes to share with parents and teens.

Osterman is one of a trio of specialists presenting a vaping prevention and education night for parents and young adults on Monday.

She’ll be joined by Providence St. Mary Medical Center staff — pulmonologist Dr. Tim Davidson and tobacco cessation specialist Matthew Joscelyn — to bring the most up-to-date information to “Clearing the Air about Vaping,” at St. Mary’s Southgate auditorium.

Although December becomes hectic for families, Osterman and the health department’s prevention specialist Peggy Needham said this is the right time for parents to hear the latest data on e-cigarettes, vaping devices and products.

The timing gives families the opportunity to discuss all things vaping over the holiday break, Osterman and Needham said.

Despite media stories, expanding research, data and social media anecdotes about this trend, much misinformation persists, the two said this week.

That’s due to marketing, both in the early days of vaping and still today, Osterman said.

Vaping, for anyone who has somehow missed all the talk, is equated with the electronic cigarette trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a host of names are affiliated with the subject, including vape pens, vapes, tank systems and e-hookahs.

At their core, e-cigs produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine — the addictive drug in traditional cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products — plus flavorings and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol.

Users inhale this aerosol into their lungs, but bystanders can also breathe in this aerosol when the user exhales into the air, according to the CDC.

Vaping is not safe for teens, kids and young adults, the federal agency has decreed.

School districts nationwide have been caught flat-footed and struggle to banish vaping on campuses, said Diana Zuckerman, author and president of the National Center for Health Research.

The devices used can be as small as a USB drive or a pen. Since there is no smoke, vaping at school can be virtually undetectable, Osterman said.

“That’s one of the challenges.”

Data is showing 31% of the teens who vape have transitioned to smoking regular cigarettes within six months, Zuckerman recently said in a session for education journalists.

CDC officials have been on the front lines of a sweeping, multi-state outbreak of lung injury associated with vaping.

As of Nov. 20, nearly 3,000 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping-associated lung injuries have been reported to CDC from 49 states (Alaska has not reported any cases), Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Forty-seven deaths have been confirmed, two of those in Oregon, and more are being investigated.

According to the CDC, analysis of fluid samples collected from the lungs of patients with e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury identified vitamin E acetate, an additive in some THC-containing vaping fluid.

Recent CDC laboratory test results of lung fluid samples from 29 patients from 10 states found vitamin E acetate in all of the samples, THC in 82% of the samples and nicotine in 62% of the samples.

Officials have said these findings are the first time they have detected a chemical of concern in biological samples from patients with these lung injuries, and that the latest national and state findings suggest THC-containing vaping products — particularly from informal sources like friends, family or dealers online or in-person — are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.

Those being hospitalized are often normally healthy kids, Zuckerman said, including the high school athletes “who will never be able to play their sport again.”

Even with awareness rising, 66% of teens believe vape fluid is simply flavoring, she said.

“We know (traditional) smoking is dangerous, but that’s 20, 30, 40 years down the road. But vaping is hospitalizing kids. It’s an unprecedented epidemic.”

Osterman agrees, noting Washington’s number of kids using vape products lines up with national rates. On the most recent Healthy Youth Survey taken by Washington’s Department of Health, 21% of 10th-graders and 30% of 12th-graders reporting vaping in the 30 days prior to the survey.

“Youth of all kinds are vaping. It’s not the troubled kids, but the kids on the honor roll at Wa-Hi,” she said.

Her department works with schools across the county, and none are immune to this issue.

“As the research comes in, we cannot find a vaping product that is considered safe. And that’s counter to some of the initial marketing messages and some of the educational messages that smoking cigarettes is worse than vaping.

“That notion is incorrect. Neither is safe.”

Dr. Davidson said it is still unclear what the long-term implications of vaping are, but what is known is that the lung injuries from it are like a severe chemical burn or inflammation of the lungs, particularly from bootlegged products.

The news about vaping appears to be bad on any timeline, especially with the addition of flavored vaping fluids marketed to younger consumers, he said — in the short term, children are exposed to risk of lung injury, and in the long term, “you’re exposing a group of people to what might be a long-term nicotine addiction.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.