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By Rex Davenport
Special to Racine County Eye

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is investigating a number of recent cases of severe lung disease among teens who have reported vaping. During July, at least eight cases of severe pulmonary disease among adolescents were reported to the department.

Patients, who resided in the counties of Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Winnebago, reported respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks before they were admitted to hospitals. DHS has not released the names of the teens or the hospitals involved

“E-cigarette and vaping products can contain toxic chemicals that can damage lungs and impact brain development,” explained Margaret Gesner, health officer at the Central Racine County Health Department.

Dottie-Kay Bowersox, public health administrator at the City of Racine Public Health Department added: “Because these products are still new, the long-term health effects are not fully understood.”

Vaping and e-cigarettes continue to grow in use among teens and adolescents. E-cigarettes, vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, and e-pipes are not the same as cigarettes, their manufacturers and supporters will tell you. These electronic nicotine delivery systems products don’t contain tobacco, but many do have nicotine. And, because as many of them come in flavors like strawberry milk, lemon macaroon, and cotton candy, many critics claim that the products are being targeted at kids.

Teens especially at risk

The effects of nicotine exposure during adolescence on the developing brain and lungs are well documented. The substance is also known to increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs. Vaping is really aerosol that teens are inhaling and exhaling out. That aerosol contains “heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs,” according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Dona Wininsky, director of tobacco control and public policy for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin, also pointed to the impact that nicotine has on the lungs. “Chemicals found in e-cigarette products have been linked to acute lung injury, COPD, may cause asthma and lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and other serious lung diseases,” she said. “In this report, the FDA questioned whether e-cigarettes may be linked to seizures.

“The … report also states there is moderate evidence that youth who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for cough and wheezing and an increase in asthma exacerbations.”

As Wininsky noted, the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) by teens has skyrocketed. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams sounded the alarm in December, issuing an advisory on ENDS products due to their health impact on teens.

About 3.6 million middle and high school students were current users of e-cigarettes in 2018, the report notes. This represents a 78 percent increase among high school students and 48 percent increase among middle school students from 2017 to 2018, according to the FDA.

Adams called the rise in e-cigarette use by teens and the health risks associated with it an “epidemic.”

“The recent surge in e-cigarette use among youth, which has been fueled by new types of e-cigarettes that have recently entered the market, is a cause for great concern. We must take action now to protect the health of our nation’s young people,” he said.

Educating patients and the public

Health professionals have an important role to play in addressing this epidemic and that means managed care providers need to be as direct as possible during health screenings.

Questions to ask
• Learn about the different shapes and types of e-cigarettes and the risks of all forms of e-cigarette use, including JUUL, for young people at
• Ask about e-cigarettes, including small, discreet devices such as JUUL, when screening patients for the use of any tobacco products.
• Educate patients about the risks of all forms of tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes, for young people.
• Encourage patients to quit. For free help, patients can visit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

(Source: Surgeon General’s Advisory on E-cigarette Use Among Youth, 2018)


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Rex Davenport

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.