E-cigarettes are the smoke of choice for a growing number of Oklahoma students. The sweet flavors and cool packaging that is easily concealed are luring in an alarming number of teenagers, according to the American Lung Association in Tulsa. The smoke of choice for today's students is so addictive, there has been a 135% jump in the number of teen smokers in the past two years.
At the same time Oklahoma is seeing the highest teen vaping rate in the nation, doctors across the United States are scrambling to treat lung infections linked to vaping. The problem, doctors say, is that many teens believe e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes despite the fact both contain nicotine.
Doctor Kendal Hervert told 2 Works for You she has seen vapers and smokers pick up these cigarettes and then find it very tough to give up. Nicotine is common to both regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes. It is known to be addictive. She also said it affects the young brain.
"it impairs memory, it impairs attention span, impulse control, all things that are important in a developing teen mind," Dr. Hervert said.
To show how nicotine impairs the lungs, Dr. Hervert set up a model of pig lungs. The healthy lungs are a vibrant pink and easily inflate with each breath. However, the lungs blackened by nicotine are stiff and barely function.
Oklahoma's increase in teen vaping is occuring as vapers across the nation are developing serious lung infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 1,600 have been hospitalized by early November. 34 of the people who vape have died. CDC scientists are now looking for the common threat between the cases.
"The only thing they can find right now that they all have in common are the e-cigarettes - is the main thing," said Terri Bailey, Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Tulsa.
Some e-cigarettes may claim they do not contain nicotine. However, Bailey said there is no way to tell for certain because they are not regulated by the government.
With studies showing that one out of every four Oklahoma teens now vape, both Dr. Hervert and Bailey agree parents cannot wait to talk to their kids about the danger of smoking.
"This is not something that's just a fad, going away," Bailey added. "It is going to take all of us working together for it to go away."
Since you cannot really tell by smell if your teen is vaping, parents are encouraged to watch for subtle signs:
- increased anxiety
- inability to sleep
The American Lung Association has developed information for parents and schools. Find more information here.
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