When vaping first began, many smokers saw it as a godsend: if they couldn’t quit, they could take up vaping, which wasn’t as toxic as smoking.

Or so they thought.

Karen Goldschmidt, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, Associate Clinical Professor and Department Chair RN-BSN Degree Completion Program, College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University, says, “E-cigarettes were introduced to the market in 2006-2007 as a lower-risk alternative for adults who smoke tobacco and as an aid in smoking cessation. At the time, because e-cigarettes were not considered tobacco products they were not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

In fact, it seems that vaping is causing more problems—and ones that health care providers don’t yet fully understand. “In the last several weeks, hundreds of possible vaping-related illnesses and 18 deaths have been reported. The number of cases has been increasing at an alarming rate. Symptoms of the mysterious illness include shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, and vomiting. Some patients have experienced respiratory failure, ending up in the intensive care unit or on a ventilator,” explains Goldschmidt.

Unfortunately, Goldschmidt states that U.S. youth are the ones who use e-cigarettes the most. And it’s serious. “Today the U.S. faces a public health crisis of epidemic proportions. The use of e-cigarettes among teens has the potential to create another generation addicted to nicotine. Both youth and young adults identify flavors as a primary reason for e-cigarette use. Today there are over 7,000 flavors available. Advertising is another factor,” she says. “Exposure to e-cigarette vapor condensate is toxic to lung cells and shows similar cellular changes to chronic smokers and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The exposure increases the risk of infection and chronic lung disease.”

As nurses, you can try to help these patients by encouraging them to quit vaping, as just this kind of intervention could make a difference. According to Goldschmidt, “Studies have shown that receiving counseling regarding tobacco use has been linked with 47 percent better odds of an attempt at quitting smoking within the year. Unfortunately, only a third of adolescents’ report being asked about tobacco use by their provider.”

There are also other steps you can take to help your patients. “I recommend that nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians screen patients for vaping/e-cigarette-use and educate patients about the risks of using these products. It’s not enough to just ask if people they smoke, drink, or use drugs. E-cigarettes and vaping are seen by people as being completely different, and many are misinformed—thinking that they are safer than smoking,” explains Goldschmidt. “Health professionals need to change their language to keep up with substance use/device use. For instance, Vaping is different than e-cigarettes and ‘Juuling.’”

Goldschmidt suggests that you give support, education, and resources to help your patients who are vaping. “Of course any nurse working with a patient with a substance use disorder needs to be aware that it is just that—that patients are most likely addicted to the Nicotine or THC and a plan of care must include caring for a patient who may decide to continue to use or helping the patient through withdrawal. Education is the key. In the end the patient needs to be ready to give up the substance,” she says. “Providing support and resources for the patient to eliminate vaping/e-cigarettes any substance is very important. I would suggest the Truth Initiative and SmokefreeTXT for Teens as resources to help teens or adults quit e-cigarettes.

“See the CDC website for the most up to date statistics. Also, the FDA, as these products may soon be regulated. Some states have already banned flavored e-cigarettes.”

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.
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