Vaping is something we should talk to our kids about

I remember when people saw "vaping" as a healthy alternative to smoking.

But even then, I wondered, "Do we really know how safe these things are?" We didn't seem to know much about them. Could they be dangerous?

Now we know that vaping can be both extremely dangerous, as well as addictive.

Just this month, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 200 cases of severe respiratory diseases potentially linked to vaping. The agency confirms at least one person has died from vaping-related illnesses.

It seems some people who use marijuana vaping products -- which include an oil derived from Vitamin E -- have become very ill. It certainly illustrates the dangers of vaping unknown substances.

But even "traditional use" of e-cigs can be dangerous, according to Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.

"Nicotine is the primary agent in both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and it is highly addictive. It causes you to crave a smoke and suffer withdrawal symptoms if you ignore the craving. Nicotine is also a toxic substance. It raises your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, which increases your heart rate and the likelihood of having a heart attack," said Blaha. "Is vaping bad for you? There are many unknowns about vaping, including what chemicals make up the vapor and how they affect physical health over the long term. People need to understand that e-cigarettes are potentially dangerous to your health. You're exposing yourself to all kinds of chemicals that we don't yet understand and that are probably not safe."

Blaha went on to say that e-cigs were not the best way to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. As a matter of fact, vaping is just as addictive as cigarettes.

"Both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes contain nicotine, which research suggests may be as addictive as heroin and cocaine," said Blaha. "What's worse, many e-cigarette users get even more nicotine than they would from a tobacco product -- you can buy extra-strength cartridges, which have a higher concentration of nicotine, or you can increase the e-cigarette's voltage to get a greater hit of the substance."

The potential dangers of vaping have moved lawmakers to act, both here in Kentucky and -- in a bill pushed by Kentucky U.S. Sen Mitch McConnell -- on the federal level.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill that bans the use of tobacco and vaping at all public schools. There was a revision that allows local school districts to opt out -- but all three of our local school systems were already tobacco-free.

McConnell's "Tobacco-Free Youth Act" raised the legal limit of purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21.

"The health of our children is at stake," McConnell said. "That is why I will make enacting this legislation one of my highest priorities."

According to a John Hopkins study, among youth, e-cigarettes are more popular than any traditional tobacco product. In 2015, the U.S. surgeon general reported that e-cigarette use among high school students had increased by 900 percent, and 40 percent of young e-cigarette users had never smoked regular tobacco.

Blaha explained there are three reasons e-cigarettes may be particularly enticing to young people. First, many teens believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking. Second, e-cigarettes have a lower per-use cost than traditional cigarettes. Finally, vape cartridges are often formulated with flavorings such as apple pie and watermelon that appeal to younger users.

Both youths and adults find the lack of smoke appealing. With no smell, e-cigarettes reduce the stigma of smoking.

"What I find most concerning about the rise of vaping is that people who would've never smoked otherwise, especially youth, are taking up the habit," says Blaha. "It's one thing if you convert from cigarette smoking to vaping. It's quite another thing to start up nicotine use with vaping. And, it often leads to using traditional tobacco products down the road."

This is definitely something we should talk to our children about.

Kudos to our lawmakers for taking on the health issue.

Now it's up to us to protect our kids from the potential dangers of vaping products.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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