After a dizzying month of news surrounding the health effects of vaping devices, Yale researchers and faculty members have some advice: don’t vape.
It started in August. A health advisory notice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported hundreds of possible lung illness cases in e-cigarette smokers across the United States. Patients reported having respiratory and stomach problems. Some have been hospitalized for their symptoms.
Then, according to a CDC announcement on Sept. 11, the number of possible cases ballooned to roughly 400, including at least one from Connecticut. Six deaths were reported, but none were in the state.
President Donald Trump weighed in later that day, saying in an Oval Office meeting that action should be taken to ban flavored vapes. And finally, in a Yale-wide email on Sept. 12, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin warned community members of the dangers of vaping — marijuana or otherwise.
“The cause of vaping-related lung injury is unknown,” he wrote. “While some patients have improved with high dose steroids, others have developed progressive lung injury resembling severe infection.”
In his email, Genecin advised community members against purchasing vaping paraphernalia “off the street.” Without knowing what could be inside a vape, e-cigarette smokers could expose themselves to toxins like benzene, metals and harmful bacteria.
The announcement has special relevance to Yale students. At the beginning of the semester, the News distributed a survey to members of the class of 2023 to learn more about their interests and backgrounds — including their vaping history. Of the 1,554 first years in Yale College, 726 responded to the survey, yielding a 47 percent response rate. Survey results were not adjusted for selection bias. Over 15 percent of first years reported having vaped at least once. Roughly two percent do it “once a month,” and slightly less reported vaping daily.
For Director of Yale’s play4REAL Lab Kimberly Hieftje, a leading researcher on teen vape addiction, the allure of e-cigarettes among young people is understandable — and worrisome.
“I think it’s just like with anything,” she said in an August interview with the News. “It’s a cool gadget, and I think when you add in the idea that it’s not legal, it’s just something that draws teens in.”
Hieftje and her colleagues are developing a virtual reality video game called Invite Only VR. In the game, the player must learn how to avoid peer pressure around vaping in order to get invited to a party at the end of the night. The game also includes relevant facts and statistics about the harms of vaping.
In an email to the News last week, Hieftje advised against the use of e-cigarettes, citing the CDC’s recent health advisory announcement.
“I would urge all students to stop vaping,” she wrote. “Why risk your health?”
There is no consensus on what has sparked the vaping epidemic. Regardless, some Connecticut government officials have been pushing to ban the devices entirely. Early this month, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, urged the FDA to do so, citing the number of cases of potentially vaping-related lung illnesses.
And in a Sept. 12 press release from the Connecticut State Department of Public Health, commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell encouraged abstaining from vaping until more information is known. Since August, the release stated, 11 Connecticut residents have been hospitalized for lung conditions possibly related to vaping — three were from New Haven County. All are recovering, the release added.
“Connecticut residents should consider not using e-cigarette products, at least for now, while we and our counterparts in other states and the federal government look into what is causing these severe respiratory symptoms,” Coleman-Mitchell said in the release. “This is a serious public health concern.”
For Yale Health members and students who are concerned that their illness could be related to vaping, Genecin wrote that they can see a physician at Yale Health “at any hour” through the Acute Center.
Matt Kristoffersen | firstname.lastname@example.org