For years now health professionals, educators and government officials have been warning about the dangers of vaping by children and trying to come up with ways to eradicate the practice.
Earlier this year, Newtown Borough became the first municipality in the region and possibly the state outside of Philadelphia to designate its public parks a tobacco-free, vape-free and e-cigarette-free zone through a resolution.
Councilor and borough mom Nicole Rodowicz brought the issue to council’s attention in 2018 concerned by the increase in vaping and e-cigarette use among young people.
She led the effort to draft an updated "Young Lungs at Play" resolution, with the help of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania and the borough’s solicitor, to educate the public and to protect the “young lungs” of children from the potential harmful affects of second hand smoke from cigarettes and second hand aerosol from vaping and e-cigarettes.
At the time, Rodowicz said she was hoping the action would send a strong message to the area’s young people that vaping is just as dangerous and addicting as smoking.
Yet despite attempts to spread the word about the dangers of e-cigarettes and to impose regulations meant to discourage their use by young people, the problem persists.
Electronic cigarettes have been described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but they contain heavy amounts of nicotine, which health officials say is harmful to developing brains and might make kids more likely to take up cigarettes. According to the surgeon general, each Juul cartridge contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and it’s formulated to give a smoother, more potent buzz that can get people hooked quickly.
It’s almost time for a new school year, meaning educators once again will be put in the difficult position of trying to tame a problem that’s so hard to control because popular vaping devices are so easy to hide.
And the latest news on the subject is not encouraging.
The Associated Press reported that as many as 50 people in at least six states have come down with breathing illnesses that may be linked to vaping products. No deaths have been reported, but at least a few have come close. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting.
Wisconsin health officials this month said they’ve seen 15 confirmed cases, with another 15 illnesses under investigation. New York officials are investigating 10, Illinois has seen at least six, New Jersey at least nine and Minnesota doctors said they have four more. California and Indiana have also been looking into reported illnesses.
Health officials have only been counting certain lung illnesses in which the person had vaped within three months. Most are teens, but some adult cases have also been reported. No single vaping device or liquid is associated with the illnesses.
One key question is why such cases are surfacing now, when e-cigarettes have been widely used for years. Dr. Anne Griffiths, a lung specialist who saw all four of the reported Minnesota cases and is convinced they’re related to vaping, said it’s possible illnesses previously weren’t recognized as being related to the practice.
It’s going to be difficult, but we must keep up the fight.
That means parents must be vigilant about ensuring their children understand the dangers of these products and make sure they’re not using them.
Retailers should put the public good ahead of the profit motive and refuse to carry the sort of vaping products most likely to appeal to kids.
And the government must keep up its efforts to pressure e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers to engage in proper practices.
It took decades to finally put a serious dent in the dangerous use of traditional tobacco products in this country. It would be a shame to lose all that ground now.