At least three young people in Illinois have been sent to the hospital in recent months after having used e-cigarettes, also known as “vapes.” That’s according to an investigation by the state’s Department of Public Health.
IDPH says between May and July, three people from the Chicago area reported severe breathing problems after vaping. Just to the north, Wisconsin’s public health department is investigating eleven such cases. Teens there were diagnosed with severe pulmonary disease and some even had to be intubated.
Illinois Public Health director Ngozi Ezike said the spike in health problems paints a troubling picture.
“A major issue is that people think it’s not as dangerous," she explained. "I’m not sure if people even fully recognize that it does contain nicotine and other chemical solvents that are carcinogenic.”
Both departments are still investigating the illnesses, and what products those young people used. Ezike says the products are deceptively designed, and can easily fool anyone.
“The different flavors that are associated with it make people think that it’s more of a candy," she said. "It tries to minimize the inherent dangers of the chemical components.”
Last year, 27 percent of Illinois high school seniors said they tried vaping according to the state’s Youth Survey. State lawmakers approved taxing vape products at 15 percent and raised the tobacco purchase age to 21 this year. It's unclear if either of those efforts are having any impact yet on vaping use among teenagers.
Ezike believes a higher purchasing age will work.
“People start the practice by getting the product from another young person, so with the raised age of 21, you decrease the availability to that high schooler, to that young teenager."
Public health studies on the effects of e-cigarettes have been so far limited, though both state and federal lawmakers have hammered companies like JUUL for deceptive marketing strategies. While young people continue to use the products, Ezike explained public awareness must also increase.
“We need to make sure that we understand that these vaping liquids contain many unknown chemicals and the dangers of vaping should be discussed with people of all ages, especially children, given their use of it is on the rise," Ezike said.