BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Schools, states and now the federal government are trying to figure out how to stop children from vaping. But one generation’s crisis might be saving another.
University of Arkansas student Abby Davis sees it every day.
“It’s just everywhere. Almost every single person I know is doing it,” Davis said.
Now the American Heart Association’s advocate of the year, Davis was in high school right as e-cigarette popularity spiked with teens.
“Since so many people in our society are doing it they just think it’s okay and that it’s not going to harm them in any way, so they continue to do it too,” she said.
Tobacco-related incidents have gone up in Rogers schools each year since 2015. In 2015, there were 78. In the 2018 school year, there were 159.
In Bentonville Schools, the numbers are even higher. Tobacco-related incidents doubled from 2017 to 2018. In 2015, there were 55. In the 2018 school year, there were 287. Superintendent Dr. Debbie Jones said these are almost exclusively vaping-related incidents.
“We don’t see traditional tobacco anymore. We see vapes,” she said.
That’s the trend around the country. According to the CDC, now 27.5% of high schoolers vape. 10.5% of middle schoolers vape. It is an issue that has ballooned in the past decade. In 2011, only 1% of kids vaped. Now, it is 17%.
Davis showed up just how easy it can be to hide vaping devices.
“It looks like an Apple Watch,” she demonstrated. “Then you just push this button and you pop it out and it’s a vape.”
That has lead to other issues.
“One of the scariest things for me is seeing students easily transition from nicotine in the vapes or e-cigarettes to CBD or THC and we’re seeing that in the schools now,” Jones said.
Vapes, many with THC and other additives, have been linked now to EVALI, a type of lung injury. There have been 23 cases of it in Arkansas, more than 2,500 cases across the country and more than 50 people have died from it, including a 15-year-old.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Navneet Kaur with Northwest Medical Center said.
She said EVALI is just one of the short-term issues.
“There’s a lot of studies going on trying to figure out exactly what is in e-cigarettes and vaping that is causing this lung disease,” Kaur said.
But what has become a public health crisis for our youth, just might be saving some of our adults. Public Health England has studied e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool and says 20,000 people a year in England quit smoking thanks to e-cigarettes.
A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows e-cigarettes are helping smokers kick the habit. And it might be more effective than the patch or gum. 18% of e-cigarette users in the study were able to quit smoking. Only 9.9% of patch and gum users were able to quit. But the same study showed 80% of those who used e-cigarettes continued to use them a year later. Only 9% continued using gum and patches.
“You’re eliminating a lot of toxic substances, like tar, smoke, carbon monoxide,” Kaur said.
But there are other additives to worry about with vape.
“There are still a lot of additives and things that are in the e-cigarettes, we don’t know if they are safe for long-term use,” she added.
Those unknowns are raising a lot of red flags.
“Even some of my friends know that it’s a really big problem, but they are too addicted at this point now to the nicotine so they just can’t stop,” Davis said.
And, by the time we get some answers, Davis worries it might be too late.