Shaye Baker, 18, of Fayetteville, Georgia. was in the hospital for seven days on oxygen, after multiple misdiagnoses of bronchitis, as doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her lungs.
“The doctors looked at my lung scans and saw that it looked as though my lungs had shards of glass in both of them,” Baker said.
A healthy heart rate for a person her age is 60-100 beats per minute. Baker’s heart rate dropped into the 30s. Her oxygen levels were dropping into the 60s, dangerously low since the normal reading ranges from 95 to 100%.
The doctors concluded that Baker had Lipoid pneumonia, which occurs when oil in the lungs weighs down on the lung tissue and causes tears, creating the appearance of glass shards in her lungs.
Baker had been vaping nicotine for two years at the time of her diagnosis. She said she never used any electronic device that contained THC.
There has been a recent outbreak of lung injuries linked to the use of e-cigarettes or vaping, especially among people ages 18 to 34.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are not certain what exactly in the products is causing these illnesses.
The CDC reported almost 530 confirmed cases of lung injuries territory, and seven deaths in the U.S. CBS reported last week an eighth person died due to an illness linked to vaping.
There are currently 18 cases in Louisiana of lung issues linked to vaping, but numbers are increasing daily.
From the research done thus far, the CDC reports the majority of these patients are using products containing THC. Most patients reported using both THC and nicotine. Some patients reported using only nicotine.
“The scary thing about vaping is that we’re a guinea pig generation essentially,” mass communication junior Emily Gaffney said. “All of the medical research being conducted and all of these weird respiratory illnesses and infections that people are getting are happening so spontaneously.”
Gaffney briefly vaped to wean herself off of cigarettes after being diagnosed with early onset Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. She stopped after talking to her mother, who works in an emergency room, and hearing stories about people younger than her experiencing serious lung illness, supposedly from vaping.
Mass Communication Associate Professor Judith Sylvester studied the harmful effects of smoking for the past 19 years. Sylvester said she worries about the popularization of e-cigarettes and vapes because of the amount of nicotine in them.
Sylvester noted that the levels of nicotine in one JUUL pod amount to one pack of cigarettes.
“In my 19 years of dealing with these issues, nothing has scared me as much as this vaping epidemic.” Sylvester said.
One concerning factor about vaping is that people are able to vape when and wherever they want, Sylvester said. JUULs allow people to intake the same levels of nicotine, but do not emit the same amount of smoke or produce a noticeable smell like cigarettes do. This concerns her because a person’s nicotine intake has the ability to increase substantially due to these factors.
Gaffney said the ease of vaping fueled her addiction, confirming Sylvester’s beliefs.
“Giving up vaping is a lot more difficult because of the convenience of it,” Gaffney said. “At least with me, I’d have to skip class if I wanted to come out and smoke a cigarette.”
English sophomore Carley Rachal began smoking cigarettes at 14-years-old. She said she never felt addicted to cigarettes, and only smoked socially for a few years.
Years later, she began using a vape, and then she lost it last football season while tailgating. The next day, she bought a pack of cigarettes due to the withdrawal symptoms she experienced.
“I never thought about nicotine as the chemical in cigarettes,” Rachal said. “With JUULs I’m like, ‘I need nicotine.’”
Rachal now smokes a JUUL and takes regular breaks, but isn’t able to fully quit using the product because of the strong withdrawal symptoms she experiences.
“The thing with JUULing is I plan to quit. I’m not addicted to anything else. There’s not anything else in the world that I need to get the way that I do with this. I don’t think I have an addictive personality, but with this,” Rachal said as she held up her JUUL, “I know I need to quit it, and it does scare me because I am addicted to it.”
Sylvester pointed out many people that begin smoking in high school do not plan to stop smoking in college just because LSU has a policy that prohibits smoking on campus — a policy that is not widely enforced, she added.
According to Sylvester, LSU needs to be the “last stand.” She believes more needs to be done to educate students on the adverse effects of vaping and the use of e-cigarettes.
At the 2019 Louisiana Gubernatorial debate, held at the University on Sept. 19, the first question asked to candidates centered around their stances on e-cigarettes and the possibility of stricter regulations. Their responses ranged from increasing warnings on e-cigarette products to regulating them as cigarette products are regulated.
On a national level, President Donald Trump announced on Sept. 11 that the FDA would implement strong regulations on flavored e-cigarettes in the coming weeks to combat minors’ use of the products.
Juul Labs Chief Executive Officer Kevin Burns stepped down on Wednesday; Juul Labs also announced it will suspend all advertisements and lobbying efforts, according to CNN.
Sylvester recognized this is a “muddled topic.” There are nicotine products that fit JUULs that are not JUUL products, and the same goes for other brands that can be more dangerous. This is especially true for THC cartridges, according to Sylvester.
Mass communication graduate student Christina Georgacopoulos conducted research about vaping during her mass communication capstone course toward the end of her senior year. She shared Sylvester’s views on the current vaping epidemic.
Georgacopoulos said she does not believe cartridges that contain THC are getting enough public attention. The products are being sold on the black market, which means the government cannot track circulation and what chemicals are being put in them.
Both Sylvester and Georgacopoulos said it will take years for researchers to produce definitive reports on the health effects of vaping. However, there is currently extensive research on how nicotine affects the neural development of young people.
Georgacopoulos added that education is the key to fixing this problem.
“I don’t think there’s much to be done in terms of enforcement and banning,” Georgacopoulos said. “It really starts with people’s individual feelings of their own personal responsibility to choose good health.”
Baker continues to recover. She is now able to walk for nearly 45 minutes, with great difficulty. Baker said she sometimes feels as if she is still not getting adequate oxygen.
“Damaging [my lungs] so young stunts their growth,” Baker said. “I’m sure I will have issues with it for the rest of my life.”
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