Milledgeville resident Deb Sanford says she started vaping after nothing else worked.

The 56-year-old house cleaner tried it all in an attempt to quit cigarettes. 

“I got started vaping after trying everything to quit,” she said. “Gum, patch, drugs. None of it worked. A friend of mine tried it and she did really well with it so I gave it a try. And it took about a month to completely quit. I used my e-cig as much as I could and when I couldn't stand it I would have a cigarette, after a while they tasted nasty and the chemical withdrawals wore off and I was able to quit. It will be nine years this coming May.”

Sanford doesn’t think that she switched addictions, however. 

“I wouldn't say I am addicted to it because of the nicotine, I'm down to zero nicotine,” she said. “I enjoy it, kind of like most people say they enjoy smoking. My favorite flavor is coffee now and that is all I use. I can go hours without using it and don’t have the jitters or any of the withdrawals that I had when I smoked cigarettes.”

She’s not alone. 

Despite numerous reports in recent months of vaping-related illnesses and deaths millions of Americans use e-cigarettes. 

According to one national report, almost 1 in 20 U.S. adults now use e-cigarettes. Roughly 10.8 million American adults use e-cigarettes, and more than half of them are under 35 years old, a U.S. study suggests. 

And while the long-term affects are still being explored, there have been nearly 1,000 reported vaping-related illnesses in the U.S. and many health authorities are urging people to stop using electronic cigarettes and other vaping products while they investigate recent deaths. 

 

So why vape?

Back in August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement on the recent vaping-related deaths and illnesses. 

“We are saddened to hear of the first death related to the outbreak of severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarette or ‘vaping’ devices. CDC’s investigation is ongoing. We are working with state and local health departments and FDA to learn the cause or causes of this ongoing outbreak. This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products. Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms — including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents. CDC has been warning about the identified and potential dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping since these devices first appeared. E-cigarettes are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

Despite the reported risks, many vapers continue usage, most citing that vapes are safer than cigarettes, or like, Sanford, that a vape or an electronic-cigarette has helped them quit smoking. 

 

What is the problem? 

Zachary Bradford, a 26-year-old Georgia College graduate, said that he has been vaping for years and saw a change in the industry when the government took it over. 

“Ever since this (recent vaping deaths and illnesses) has happened, I knew it had to be some new phenomena,” he said. “Something that had popped up recently. I started vaping back in 2015, and shortly thereafter, the FDA took over the industry and starting regulating things. You could see the changes in every store you went into, and yeah, it sucked at the time, but we’ve come a long way and things have gotten better for the industry in that sense.”

Bradford said he thinks that when the FDA started more strictly regulating the industry, things were looking up. However, there were still illnesses circulating.

“So what could be slipping through the cracks? Then it hit me: The only thing people can’t regularly get from a vape shop is something that isn’t legal everywhere: THC vape cartridges,” Bradford said. “And guess what? The more they’ve looked, the more they’ve found that the problem is an unregulated cutting agent commonly used in black market cannabis cartridges: vitamin E. Also, this is a new thing that’s only been around for a little over a year, a fairly new phenomenon.”

He may be on to something.

According to CNN reports, the federal investigation into the link between vaping and severe lung illnesses is ongoing, but some patients have reported using e-cigarettes containing cannabinoid products, such as THC. 

Following a recent illness in New York, health officials there said that extremely high levels of the chemical vitamin E acetate were found in nearly all cannabis-containing vaping products that were analyzed as part of the investigation into the illness.

Many of the products containing the vitamin E chemical are associated with counterfeit cartridges or black market products that are illegal in most of the U.S. because of the cartridges containing THC, a chemical in marijuana. 

Georgia’s Department of Public Health released a statement following the state’s first vaping-related death. The statement said that no specific e-cigarette device or substance has been linked to all cases. Most patients reported a history of using vaping products containing THC, however. Many patients reported using THC and nicotine. Some have reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.

 

In Baldwin County 

There have been no suspected illnesses stemming directly from vaping in Milledgeville and Baldwin County thus far. 

Dr. Rebecca Gay, emergency physician and medical director of the Emergency Room at Navicent Health Baldwin hospital, said that medical professionals have not always asked about the use of e-cigarettes or vapes when intaking patients. 

That has changed in recent months, however. 

“But now that it is coming in the national headlines, we’ve definitely started asking those questions and brought it to the table,” she said. “Anytime a patient comes in with shortness of breath, we’re definitely asking those types of questions now.” 

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, everyone in the U.S. that has been hospitalized with vaping-related illness developed pneumonia with no known infectious cause. The symptoms of vaping illness are similar to those of other illnesses. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. 

Dr. Gay said she thinks that in the future there will be more confirmed cases now that medial professionals know to ask certain questions. 

“Vaping was marketed, especially to younger folks, as ‘it’s just water,’” she said. “But that’s not [the case.] It’s a complex solution of chemicals that are changed from their original state once they’ve been heated to high temperatures. Although these chemicals are generally considered safe by the FDA for ingestion such as the flavorings of cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, once you heat them up and inhale them, the chemicals change and those are broken down into things that are dangerous for your lungs.” 

 

“Everyone was doing it”

Sixteen-year-old local student *Rebecca said she started vaping months ago because “everyone was doing it.” 

“I started vaping last August. It’s the easiest thing to get because anybody will go get it for you."

Because of the ease to get cartridges and the fact that she was always around it, she said that she ended up getting addicted to her vape. 

“At first I did it because everybody did it and then it got to the point where I’m like ‘this is pretty good,’ then I got addicted,” she added. 

Her addiction was based out of stress. Every time she felt stressed, she reached for her vape. 

Rebecca is an athlete and she said she could notice a change in her lung functions after vaping. 

“Whenever I was running or walking, I would definitely feel like my lungs were not really the best,” she said. 

Now, her vape that she used — and hid from her parents — has broken and so she has been forced to stop vaping.

“I thought that it was going to be hard to quit, but it’s really not,” she said. 

She said she still “misses the buzz,” however.

She said that she spent anywhere from $300 to $500 on vaping. Now that she doesn’t have a job, she doesn’t plan on buying another one, though.  

“If someone would come up and offer me a free vape, I would take it, but I’m not going to go out and waste my money. I don’t have a job,” she said. 

Rebecca also stated that she feels like others her age are still addicted to the buzz from the flavors. And even with all of the attention on the habit, she said that her school system isn’t doing enough to protect its students and inform them about the vaping risks. She said that while there are metal detectors and informative posters on campus, if students are caught vaping during school hours, it depends on the teacher as to whether the vape is confiscated. 

While she thinks her school may not be doing enough, she said she thinks that other adults are being too dramatic. 

Her mom disagrees. 

“I don’t like vaping,” *Rachel, Rebecca’s mom said. “I’ve never been a smoker, so to me, vaping is the same thing. We knew as far as for our kids, that it can’t be safe. It’s a chemical that has to be worse than cigarettes to me.”

Rachel said that it took a little bit of time to figure out that her daughter was doing something she didn’t want her to do, but her persistence paid off. 

“As a parent, how I kind of figured it out, was Life360 — following my kid [to see] where she’s going,” she said. “Seeing her stopping at these weird stores. Then I started snooping and I found some things in her car and then some things in her room.”

Life360 is an app on smartphones that detects the location of people ‘followed’ on the app. When Rachel started seeing Rebecca stopping at odd locations on the app, her parenting senses perked up. 

When she found some pods in Rebecca’s room, Rachel knew that her daughter had been vaping, and after seeing stories all over social media and the news, she was worried about what her daughter was exposing her lungs and body to. 

“I try to educate instead of punish. I feel like it’s going to sink in eventually,” she said.

And she remains persistent. 

“It gets tiring and sometimes as a parent you do want to give up and say ‘whatever, I've tried my best.’ But I don’t give up,” she said. 

Even though her daughter has told her she no longer vapes, Rachel still worries, as parents often do.

“The only way I can let go of the anxiety of it is when they’re 21 and out on their own and they can make adult choices,” she said. “It will always be something. As a parent, you just have to be concerned about your child.”

Navicent Health offers smoking cessation classes for anyone that is addicted to vaping or using products with nicotine or tobacco. Classes meet the second Tuesday of each month at Peyton Anderson Cancer Center, Navicent Health at 800 First Street in Macon. 

There is no charge for the program. 

For more information on the classes call 478-633-2614. 

 

*These names were changed due to the sensitivity of the subject and Rebecca’s age. 

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