Preparing for a major healthcare crisis: FOX4 investigates the impact of vaping on teens

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As lawmakers on Capitol Hill prepare to vote on a bill to ban all e-flavored cigarettes, Kansas and 38 other states announced they're investigating Juul for its marketing tactics toward kids.

FOX4 hosted a town hall on vaping Thursday, February 27, setting out to look closer at how vaping is impacting teens in our community.

“The Truth” initiative says in 2019, more than one in four high-schoolers have vaped.

While the multi-billion-dollar market continues to come out with new and enticing products, doctors have growing concerns about the health impacts.  

One student told FOX4 a classmate dropped an e-cigarette in the toilet, scooped it up, and used it.

“That’s addiction,” said Haley, a senior at Shawnee Mission West High School. “It goes down to middle school, but obviously I think it trickles into upper elementary, especially those kids that have older siblings.”

Haley's not the only one who saw clouds of vapor hovering on metro school grounds, sometimes shutting down restrooms for long periods of time.

“One of my friends actually went to the doctor for it because he had troubles,” said Xavier Doring, a University of Kansas student.  

Now a sophomore at KU, Doring remembers seeing other kids vaping in high school bathrooms, and even classrooms.

“It has all these different flavors and like smells and everything. It`s just a lot harder to catch than like cigarettes and stuff like that,” he said.

The FDA’s “partial vape ban” went into effect in early February. The mandate bans most fruit, dessert and mint flavored e-cigarettes that use pods.

Disposable e-cigarettes are the hottest thing on the market right now, in part because they're not banned. Some common brands are Puff Bars and Posh.

“Puff Bars, you can order online and just say that you're 21 and then get them delivered right to your door, which is a lot more accessible,” Haley explained.  

Another product, Vaprwear, allows you to: “Vape anything, anywhere.” This is done through strings on hoodies and tubes that pop out of backpacks.

One 21-year-old KU student FOX4 spoke with didn’t want to be identified, but said he understands the allure. He started vaping at 16.

“The owner of the vape shop never ID'd us, kind of looked the other way,” he said, adding that he feels targeted by Big Tobacco.

“They just kind of market it as just purely nicotine, but obviously there`s chemicals in there. That will probably do some nasty stuff if you continue to use it.”

Research shows teens are more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure.

Tobaccofreekids.org says in Kansas, the tobacco industry spends more than $73 million on marketing each year. In Missouri, that figure balloons to nearly $350 million.

“They’re evil,” Dr. Roy Jensen said.

Jensen said nicotine is as addictive as cocaine or heroin. And doctors worry what other dangerous substances are in vaping devices.

“They're essentially, you know, breathing toxic fumes into your lungs. On purpose,” Jensen said.  

As director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, he says its research suggests that vaping sets up the same kind of process that leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

“They are constantly gasping for breath; they can hardly walk up a flight of stairs. They're essentially air cripples,” Jensen said.

While only about one in every 10 smokers get lung cancer, nearly every smoker gets COPD. KU Cancer Center research indicates the same is true for vaping, and they're bracing for a major health care crisis.

“Obviously I wish that never got into it. I mean, no one really knows what is going to happen to people that vape,” the 21-year-old KU student said.  

That's what Haley teaches in the Johnson County Teen Task Force, designed to end vaping among youth.

“We don't want to have this product tested on us first. We want to know what it does. Before we take part in it,” she said.

And advice out of a mouth that used to vape, and successfully quit.

“It's so dumb. Don't do it. Not worth it. We don't really know what's going to happen. What effects it will have on our health,” the 21-year-old KU student said.

FOX4’s town hall discussion on the dangers of vaping begins at 9 a.m. Thursday and includes a panel of doctors and researchers with KU Cancer Center. We’ll stream it live online and on our Facebook page.

More Resources:

SmokeFree Teen provides information and resources to help kick the vaping habit.

True Vape Talk from the American Lung Association breaks down misinformation and provides more insight into the impact of vaping on your body.

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