That sweet smelling mist coming from electronic cigarettes seems harmless. After all, it’s just flavored steam. The reality is that this vapor could be extremely harmful, especially to children.

In just the last few weeks, medical experts have been trying to unravel the mystery behind an outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses that have landed seemingly healthy individuals in hospitals without warning. Nationwide, six vaping-related deaths have been documented, the latest announced last week.

Vaping involves the use of electronic cigarettes, battery powered devices as small as a thumb drive that mimic smoking by heating liquids containing flavorings, addictive nicotine and other chemicals. Very little, if any, research has been done on the effects of vaping on a person’s health. The use of e-cigarettes is just too new.

E-cigarette sales began about a decade ago, marketed as a healthy alternative to tobacco smoking. But this summer, health officials began receiving reports of illnesses possibly linked to vaping. Symptoms start with coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s often followed by nausea, diarrhea, fever and weight loss.

Some patients end up with respiratory distress syndrome, a condition when fluid builds up in the lungs preventing oxygen in the body from circulating throughout the bloodstream. Nationwide, the CDC has documented about 450 cases of vaping-related illness in 33 states. The Ohio Department of Health this week said 10 people between the ages of 16 and 26 have been hospitalized with the illness. ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton called this an absolute public health crisis.

Vaping is on the rise. Experts estimated there are about 14 million nicotine e-cigarette users in the U.S. today and more than 35 million worldwide.

Middle school and high school students whose bodies and brains are still developing are becoming e-cigarettes users as well, even though only adults are permitted to buy the devices in most states, including Ohio.

But we all know that some kids find a way to get their hands on the devices.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has called the increased use of e-cigarettes by children an epidemic.

“We must take action now to protect the health of our nation’s young people,” he said. Children and young adults are especially at risk for long-term effects of vaping, Dr. Adams said, because of the impact of nicotine on their growing bodies and developing brains.

The most recent CDC studies show that the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018. The CDC reported that in 2018, about 5 percent of middle school students and 20 percent of high school students nationwide use e-cigarettes. Compare that to the 8.1 percent rate of tobacco cigarette smoking in high school students in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Local school districts are taking steps to raise awareness of the issue with both students and their parents.

Districts have updated student handbooks prohibiting vaping on school property or during school events. Solon, for example, announced students caught vaping will face consequences.

Bainbridge police have held an information session for parents about the dangers of vaping, and health education curriculum has been updated in other districts to include the ill effects of vaping.

The recent deaths have been alarming, especially since doctors don’t know exactly why it is suddenly happening. Parents must immediately learn about the seriousness of vaping and then explain the ill effects to their children. That flavored mist just isn’t worth it.

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