Eight vaping-related illnesses reported in Virginia; health officials warn of growing teen use

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Last weekend, the 7th person in the United States died due to vaping and e-cigarette use.
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Meanwhile, CDC reports there have been nearly 400 cases where people have gotten sick from vaping and Juuling. In Virginia, there have been 8 cases of illness; one was even in the New River Valley just a few weeks ago.

Health experts say even though e-cigarettes aren't combustibles and have not been known to cause cancer, they pose a significant risk for respiratory problems and addiction.

"It still delivers nicotine, and what's happening with the e-cigarettes is it's delivering a lot of other things too depending on who's using it," Dr. Noelle Bissell, the director of the New River Health, said.

Mixing in THC, CBD, and flavors with different devices makes regulating and studying e-cigarettes difficult for the FDA and CDC.

"What we do know is we're seeing these cases where people develop respiratory problems, and it can be shortness of breath, a cough, which can ultimately lead to respiratory failure where they're on the respirator, the ventilator," Bissell said.

She said nearly everyone across the country who develops these illnesses has vaping in common.

"Most of them had used a marijuana, THC type product, but not all of them."

The newness of these products leads a lot to a lot of unanswered questions about their long-term effects.

"At this point we have these cases, we know they're related to electronic cigarette use," Bissell explained. "We're trying to hone it down and figure out exactly what could be the irritant or chemical that's causing the problem, but when it goes into your body, you just have now idea how you're going to react and so it really is kind of a risky business."

Some other symptoms to be aware of after vaping are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. If you experience any of these, you should consult your doctor.

E-cigarette use in the United States has also risen among teens and young adults. An annual government-funded survey found more than 1 in 9 high school seniors are vaping nicotine on a near-daily basis.
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Bissell explained the initial appeal for teens comes from the advertising.

"It was marketed with flavors number one, and number two it was marketed as "safe" and not harmful like smoking."

Nancy Hans, the executive director of the Prevention Council in Roanoke, said parents should talk to their kids early and often about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping.

"We know that it gets harder and harder as you go to middle and high school to talk to your kids sometimes because they're going through a lot of developmental changes," Hans said. "Kids brains are not fully developed until somewhere between 23 and 28 years old. We really need to continue to let them know, 'Okay, here are the boundaries. I'm listening to you.' And really share with them what the value system is and know that there could be experimentation."

Peer pressure is a common factor in teens trying e-cigarettes for the first time, which is why it's important to teach kids how to say no.

"What are you giving your kids as sort of tools to help with being able to get out of a situation and still saving face, still keeping their friends?" she asked.

And though businesses are not allowed to sell to anyone under 21, kids often find other ways to get these products.

"The thing is there are older siblings, or there are older friends. The other thing is there is a lot that can be done online."

Hans said everyone, not just parents, needs to understand these products and set positive examples for young people.

"Prevention is education. Education is prevention," she said. "And the more you can have, the more tools you can have in your parent toolbox, the better off it's going to be. And the earlier you get them, the smoother the road might be."

Bissell explained that on top of the health risks, there's also a huge financial risk too should you end up in a hospital. Even though recovering from a respiratory problem is likely, it's expensive. A single day on a ventilator could cost up to $10,000 and a person is on a ventilator for 7-10 days on average while they recover.

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