Local hospitals warn of vaping harm to lungs

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With vaping a popular alternative to cigarettes, West Michigan hospitals say they are seeing an increase in people checking in for vaping-related lung issues.

“We have had cases we’ve had to put on life support to give the lungs time to heal so that we could remove the life support and get them back on track,” Dr. Shelley Schmidt, a pulmonary critical care specialist with Spectrum Health.

In extreme cases, she said, patients have left the hospital with breathing machines.

Vaping is often advertised as a way to quit smoking or a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, but doctors tell say that “healthier” is relative.

“The bar was set exceedingly low, so if you have hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals that we know in a cigarette, if you have several cancer-causing chemicals, that is fewer of them, but that does not make them safer, per se,” Schmidt said.

The federal Food and Drug Administration says vape pens or e-cigarettes of any kind are not approved devices to quit smoking. In fact, the devices aren’t FDA-approved or regulated at all, so no one really knows what they’re inhaling.

“What we know about the chemicals in e-cigarettes and vaping juices is that they are chemicals that are toxic to the lung and are also cancer-causing chemicals along with the metals are used to encase them,” Schmidt said.

She said that when you put the two together and heat them up, the effects are magnified.

“I think that’s the most important thing for people to recognize, is there’s nothing harmless about these devices,” she said. “This is not harmless water vapor.”

She added that vapes actually cause users to become addicted to nicotine more quickly than cigarettes.

“They change the chemistry to allow the person to take a longer drag off the vape, which leads to higher levels of nicotine in the blood and the brain. Coupled with the flavorings, the lack of smoking stigma and the reasonable price,” she said.

The full effects of vaping is unknown and many of the products come from overseas. Until the products are regulated, we won’t know for sure what’s in them. 

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