COLORADO SPRINGS — Nationally, lung-injury hospitalizations connected to vaping are on the rise. With Colorado leading the nation when it comes to the teen-vaping rate, local health care officials fear they will see more cases in Colorado.
Kevin McQueen is the director of respiratory care for UCHealth in southern Colorado.
Of the growing number of hospitalizations, Kevin says: “We have watched it go from a small number of cases clustered in three states in the Midwest, to very quickly spreading across the United States. We’ve now had 193 cases in 22 states in a very rapid pace.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment confirmed a hospitalization involving a case of sudden and severe lung illness tied to vaping the week of Aug.19th, 2019.
Kevin says that looking at the data, he expects to see more hospitalizations in Colorado in the future. “Colorado leads the nation with the highest rate of vaping in the juveniles ranging from the middle school to high school level. The national average is about to 13.2% and we are right at 27%. We have so many young people smoking, we most likely will see an increased number of these patients coming to our emergency rooms or coming to our hospitals.”
If you're a parent looking to protect your kids, following them around 24 hours a day isn’t realistic. Kevin says there is one thing parents can do right now. “Parents need to become educated, they need to take the time to learn about what vaping is and get past the point where their teenagers may be telling them vaping is 100% safe. Some parents are being told by their kids that they're just vaping flavored liquid, but the reality is these devices are nicotine-delivery devices, and they can deliver enormous amount of nicotine.”
There is much to learn. Vaping devices come in many shapes and sizes. Some are designed to look like cigarettes or pipes and you may have already heard of the more discreet designs that look like a computer thumb drive or a memory stick that can easily be concealed in a shirt sleeve or in plain sight.
Kevin says vaping devices are available that are even made to look like a life-saving medication. “The one that really alarms me as a respiratory specialist is a nicotine-delivery device for vaping that looks exactly like a rescue inhaler for an asthma patient. It's designed so that people can use it in places in public where you wouldn't want to be seen vaping. Teenagers going into schools that have this (device), their teachers would think it's an inhaler for their asthma, when in fact it's a nicotine-delivery device.”
Another misconception parents may have is that all vaping devices produce large plumes of white smoke. Kevin explains, “Frequently teenagers are doing it right in the school bathrooms. The devices can either put out a huge cloud, or they can be very discreet with a very small amount of vapor, It just depends on the device and what individuals are trying to achieve.”
Traditional cigarettes, by contrast, are more obvious, with signs of smoking including strong smells that are hard to hide. With odorless vaping being so discreet, Kevin says it’s leading to vastly increased consumption. “They can really be doing this very frequently. Teens can spend hours a day vaping and they're putting a tremendous amount of moist, sticky, flavored liquid inside their lungs. Our bodies are not designed for that, and the concern with healthcare professionals is what is going to happen, five, 10, 15 or20 years down the road?”
Kevin has put together a comprehensive presentation to educate people about vaping. He has given the presentation to other healthcare providers and has also given it to a student body advisory board in Academy School District 20. The presentation also addresses another alarming deadly trend on the rise tied to vaping that involves simply having vaping liquid in the house.
Kevin says, “We're seeing it in children age five and under, of children drinking the flavored liquid nicotine.”
In the presentation, he shares a story where an adult mistakenly swapped vaping liquid for another substance. “A family member accidentally gave it (vaping liquid) to him (a child) thinking it was cold medicine and it had a very large amount of nicotine in the liquid and immediately the child went into seizures and then went into cardiac arrest. That’s a risk that parents need to understand that if they have a juvenile vaping, that liquid maybe somewhere in their house.”
Kevin and his team want to share this important vaping presentation many more times and will do it free of charge. “I would like to get out to every school district in southern Colorado if we can. Pueblo, Colorado Springs - I have a whole team of people that are willing to come present the information so we can better educate people. I'd like to go talk to the teenagers just so they have an educated understanding that these (devices) are not completely safe, there are risks and they need to just be aware of it - then they can make their decisions. Any parent needs to step up and learn about it; even if their kid is not currently vaping they need to be aware and know what to look for.”
For more details on Kevin’s vaping presentation, and how you can schedule it for your school or organization you can email him at Kevin.McQueen@uchealth.org