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Understanding “vaping” and what it means to those that use it, has been a daily and ongoing learning event for Holley DeWitt, Glacier County Health Department Tobacco Prevention Specialist.

In the vaping world, things are always changing, however, DeWitt said she and other Tobacco Prevention Specialists have learned much about this unsafe, potentially harmful and seriously scary habit. 

“E-cigarette aerosol is not harmless water vapor. It can contain harmful substances, including: nicotine, ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, toxic flavorings, volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead. E-cigarettes are not currently fully regulated by the FDA, so there is no way of knowing what each individual e-cigarette product actually contains.”

Not only is there uncertainty on what e-cigarettes contain, but there is also a number of different forms e-cigarettes come in or are known by. 

“Vaping products are known by many different names and come in many shapes, sizes and device types,” DeWitt shared. “They may be referred to as e-cigs, vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, mods or tanks.”

According to DeWitt, “Use of e-cigarettes is sometimes referred to as ‘vaping’ or ‘juuling.’ E-cigarettes used for marijuana are sometimes called ‘dab pens.’ Some e-cigarette devices resemble cigarettes or ordinary household items such as USB flash drives, pens and flashlights.”

And now, on top of all that horrifying information, vaping has been linked to several deaths and pulmonary illnesses.

Last week the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), issued a press release “urging Montanans to consider not using e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, while an ongoing nationwide investigation is conducted into serious pulmonary illnesses possibly linked to the use of these products.” 

Sadly, the number of nationwide cases of severe lung illnesses related to vaping continues to grow. DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said there are a few potential cases in Montana being investigated.

“I am urging Montanans to take note about what is happening in other states and respond accordingly. While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products. Montanans using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, should also consider quitting permanently,” stated Hogan.

“We have free Quit Kits available at the Glacier County Health Department for anyone thinking about trying to quit,” DeWitt added. 

There is also help available on the Montana Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-784-8669. Youth, under the age of 18, can text, “Start My Quit” to 1-855-891-9989 or visit mylifemyquit.com

Patients diagnosed with vaping illnesses report symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. Often times, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are reported as well. Symptoms appear to worsen over a period of days or weeks and do not appear to be caused by a pulmonary infection, the press release said. 

The vaping patients with these symptoms reported using an e-cigarette product in the weeks or months prior to becoming ill. The products used by these patients may contain nicotine, flavors, cannabinoid products such as THC or CBD and other chemicals. 

To date, no single substance or e-cigarette product has been consistently associated with the illness.

The press release from DPHHS added, “Regardless of the ongoing investigation, people who use e-cigarette products should not buy these products off the street and should not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer. E-cigarette products should never be used by youth, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

Hogan said in Montana, e-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among high school students. The 2019 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed nearly a third or 30 percent of Montana high school students currently use e-cigarettes and more than half, 58 percent, have tried them.

Vaping is not harmless. Vaping is not safe. And yet, as the DPHHS said, “the number of nationwide cases of severe lung illnesses related to vaping continues to grow.” 

Quit. Get help to quit. And be sure and contact your healthcare provider if you have been using e-cigarettes and have any of the symptoms listed. It is important and it needs to happen now. 

For more information on vaping, check out: dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/mtupp/vapingpulmonar-ydisease.

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