LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — E-cigarettes are often used by cigarette smokers as a way to satisfy nicotine cravings without inhaling tobacco, but dozens of deaths connected to vaping, plus the rise in teenagers vaping, is alarming to health officials.
Experts described several reasons why teenagers would begin vaping. A single pod has as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, which makes it a powerful stimulant. The flavored pods can also be appealing. Additionally, many e-cigarettes look like a harmless flash drive, and for some students, there’s a thrill in being able to get away with vaping in class without anyone noticing.
“A case perhaps can be made that vaping is quote safer than a cigarette, but just about everything in the world is safer than a cigarette,” said Dr. Kerry Gateley, the Health Director of the Central Virginia Health District of the Virginia Department of Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 47 people have died of lung injuries related to vaping.
“Lynchburg’s not immune,” said Carter Broocks, the Director of Development for the American Heart Association Walk in Lynchburg. “You go anywhere and you see the vape shops on the corner, you see kids, you see grownups, it’s something new, it’s something that’s coming about, and a lot of people aren’t necessarily familiar with all the risks associated with it.”
The American Heart Association says one in four high school students vape, and that has local health experts worried.
“We really don’t know, particularly in teenagers, what the long-term impact of that is going to be,” said Gateley. “Basically what [it is] doing is rewiring their brains for nicotine at a very early age, and that could have a lifelong impact on them.”
Local school districts are starting an intervention program through the Virginia Health Department and the American Lung Association.
Instead of punishing students who get caught vaping, they’d go to counseling.
“It talks about the addiction component of nicotine, it talks about the reasons why that teen might be vaping,” said Kim Foster, the Population Health Community Coordinator for the Central Virginia Health District of the Virginia Department of Health. “We talk about some alternatives they could do.”
The INDEPTH program stands for Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health. It is in Amherst now, and the plan is to expand to Appomattox and Bedford Counties as well as Lynchburg.
“The INDEPTH program tries to hit things from all different angles hoping that they will relate to something in there that may make them want to change their habits,” said Foster.
Local and national health experts spoke with WFXR and made it clear that they have no idea what chemicals in e-cigarettes are causing lung disease and that the research is ongoing.