ROCKFORD — To all you parents, if you see a slender device plugged into an outlet in your child’s bedroom, it may not be a portable battery charger.
It may be an e-cigarette, and your child may be vaping.
Electronic cigarettes have been around for several years, but have come under fire recently after the Illinois Department of Public Health revealed it is working with local health departments to investigate the hospitalization of three young people who experienced severe breathing problems after vaping.
“While the short- and long-term effects of vaping are still being researched, these recent hospitalizations heighten the need for parents talk with their teens about vaping and for both to understand the consequences and potential dangers of vaping,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
Across the stateline, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported 11 confirmed and seven suspected cases of severe pulmonary disease among adolescents, all of whom also reported vaping.
Vaping entails inhaling and exhaling vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device. The e-cigarette produces the vapor by heating a liquid containing water, flavoring, nicotine and other chemicals.
Yaser Zeater, a pulmonologist at SwedishAmerican Hospital, treats patients who smoke cigarettes and vape e-cigarettes. Aside from experiencing respiratory problems, they also have one other thing in common.
“I can smell my patients coming in,” he said. “I can tell. Even if they smoked an hour earlier, they still exhale what is inside their lungs.”
Zeater said vaping also has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans or B.O., a serious and “irreversible disease” that results in obstruction of the smallest airways of the lungs (bronchioles) due to inflammation. Symptoms include a dry cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.
The disease is also known as “popcorn lung” due to workers in a microwave popcorn factory becoming ill from breathing in diacetyl, a buttery-flavored chemical in foods like popcorn. The chemical was linked to deaths and hundreds of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans. Major popcorn manufacturers have removed diacetyl from their products, but Zeater said some people, particularly youths and young adults, are still being exposed to the chemical through e-cigarette vapor.
Partly in response to vaping and youth health concerns, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill, Tobacco 21, raising the legal age for purchasing cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21. The bill went into effect July 1.
When Sara Zibert, a Crusader Community Health pediatrician, attempts to diagnose a youth with respiratory problems, she said asking the child if they smoke or vape is in the line of questioning.
Although e-cigarettes are marketed as being a safer alternative to smoking regular cigarettes, Zibert said the long-term effects are still being studied.
“Cigarettes took a long time to discover all the effects, and I think vaping will follow a similar pattern,” she said.
“I always say, ‘Common sense isn’t common.’ When you see that smoke coming out of people when they expel it, it’s common sense that down the road there are going to be lot more problems associated with it than we know right now. It just takes time to develop all the studies.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are going to be more problems down the road.”
Chris Green: 815-987-1241; email@example.com; @chrisfgreen