E-cigarettes holding the smoking gun? Hilltoppers continue to vape despite recent issues

A student walks through Centennial Mall exhaling smoke from a non-THC vape pen on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Seven people in six states have died recently due to e-cigarette related pulmonary illnesses.

The Warren County Drug Task Force estimated that of all marijuana-related charges in the past year, over 2000 such cases involved confiscation of THC vapes.

Todd Young, deputy director of the Warren County Drug Task Force, said THC vapes have surged in popularity since the legalization of marijuana in several states. Young said THC vapes are especially popular among teenagers and young adults.

“I would say cases tend to involve the high school to the college-age crowd,” Young said. “Most THC vapes are trafficked through the mail from places where they’re legal, like California and Colorado, to Warren County.”

Law enforcement has struggled to identify THC vapes as a result of their discrete nature and lack of the smell associated with marijuana.

“Once vapes are out of their package, they’re easy to hide and can be disguised as other things, so officers have to know what to look for to catch them,” Young said.

Last week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention continued to urge the public to avoid e-cigarette and vape products as the number of vape-related lung injuries reached 2,290 cases spanning 49 states — the majority being linked to THC vapes.

The surge of illnesses was first announced in a Sept. 6 telebriefing by Dana Meaney Delman, incident manager of the CDC’s response to the outbreak.

“Most importantly, while this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products,” Delman said. “People who do use e-cigarette products should monitor themselves for symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, or others) and promptly seek medical attention for any health concerns.”

The CDC analyzed 29 patients who had been admitted to hospitals for e-cigarette and vaping associated lung injuries (EVALI) and found that all were linked to Vitamin E acetate, an additive used to thicken THC vaping products.

As of Nov. 20, the CDC has reported 47 deaths nationwide linked to THC vapes since the start of the investigation.

Freshman Webb Bates said students generally continue to use THC vapes as many are unaware of the risk of illness. Other students aware of the outbreak have switched to other forms of marijuana.

“[THC vapes] are convenient and discreet, and it’s a USB world,” said Bates. “Several of my friends have gone the extra mile to buy from organic and safer sources.”

Bates said students should spread awareness of the dangers associated with THC vapes to avoid future illnesses.

According to an annual study con- ducted by the University of Michigan, the number of college students vaping marijuana increased from 5.2% in 2017 to 10.9% in 2018. This marks the most rapid increase of any substance tracked in the 40-year history of the study.

Alongside Vitamin E acetate, THC vapes contain hash oil that can reach THC concentrations upwards of 80%. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, this degree of potency “increases the risk of an unpredictable high and negative physical and emotional reactions.”

The CDC will continue to track injuries and deaths related to vaping and release its next update on Dec. 5.

News reporter Michael J. Collins can be reached at michael.collins527@topper.wku.edu.