Last week, the California Department of Public Health issued an alert to health departments throughout the State regarding vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI). This is the mysterious condition sending primarily teens and young adults to emergency rooms across the country with trouble breathing. Many are placed on ventilators, and as many as five have died.
In California, there have been 36 cases since June, eight of them have been in San Diego County, the largest number throughout the State.
While experts investigate these cases and try to determine the cause, industries are pointing fingers and deflecting blame. JUUL, the e-cigarette giant that turned youth vaping into an epidemic, claims to have “robust safety monitoring,” and State-sanctioned marijuana industries claim the problem likely stems from black-market THC pods. It could be years before definitive answers are found, but in the meantime, it’s safe to say no form of vaping can be considered harmless.
Meanwhile, our kids are now exposed to marijuana billboards on the 78, e-cigarette commercials on TV, radio ads for ‘recreational cannabis,’ and who-knows-what on social media.
Marijuana has surpassed alcohol as the first substance juvenile offenders report trying (often before age 13), and only 14% of them believe it’s harmful (SANDAG, SAM, Vol 20 Issue 6). Teen vaping has increased 900% between 2011-2015. Nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students have used marijuana in vaping devices (JAMA Pediatrics 2018).
And at the same time vaping health concerns are increasing, local officials in Oceanside and Vista approved expanding marijuana business, where vaping is estimated to be as much as 30% of California’s weed market (https://www.barrons.com/articles/vaping-bigger-part-us-marijuana-market-51558547911).
On August 27, Vista approved allowing their 11 Measure Z dispensaries to deliver marijuana, and expanding its zoning code to allow manufacturing, distribution, and testing.
You probably agree we’re in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Purdue launched OxyContin in 1996 – over 20 years ago. The number of people who admitted using OxyContin for non-medical purposes increased dramatically from about 400,000 in 1999 to 1.9 million in 2001 to 2.8 million in 2003 (https://www.fda.gov/media/126835/download) Drug overdose deaths rose from 16,849 in 1999 to 70,237 in 2017 (https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates), and have remained stubbornly high.
We are currently in the infancy of corporate marketing of e-cigarettes and marijuana. JUUL launched their slick e-cigarette device in 2017, and marijuana businesses have not yet opened in North County.
Officials can’t state definitively the health impacts e-cigarettes or explain how vaping damages your lungs. But the US Surgeon General did issue an advisory last week to raise awareness of the known and potential harms marijuana can cause to developing brains, and urged pregnant women and adolescents in particular not to use it in any form (https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/reports-and-publications/addiction-and-substance-misuse/advisory-on-marijuana-use-and-developing-brain/index.html).
It may be decades before health officials, regulators, or political leaders take serious action to prevent youth vaping. But kids need you now – share your concerns, set rules and expectations against vaping, impose consequences if necessary, and stay informed. Deaths from vaping have just begun; let’s stop them in their tracks.
Diane Strader is a Board member of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition and retired pediatric nurse.