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How Vaping-related Illnesses are Causing Teen and Young Adult Deaths

Posted on Oct 14, 2019

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) there have been more than 1,080 lung injury cases and 18 deaths across various states and all cases have been found to be associated with the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. Most people are under age 35 and 16% are under 18. Elliot Melendez, M.D., is a physician in the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital pediatric intensive care unit and Jasmine Reese, M.D., is adolescent medicine specialist and the director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, they explain vaping and the consequences it can have on teens.

What kind of damage/injuries are physicians seeing with this? What is causing the damage?

Aerosols produced by e-cigarettes and vaping devices can contain toxic cancer-causing chemicals and other harmful agents such as volatile substances, ultra-fine particles, and heavy metals like nickel, tin, and lead. We know all of these substances can lead to injury throughout the body including in the lungs, respiratory tract, blood vessels and the brain.

We don’t know the specific chemical or toxin that is causing the lung injury and we need more information. We do know that many of the cases of lung injury that have been reported were also associated with the use of THC-containing products.

It is important to understand that different vape products can contain a variety of substances including nicotine and if purchased from other individuals can also be laced with marijuana or other drugs. Substances like nicotine are extremely addictive and cause harmful effects to the developing brain of an adolescent. One vape cartridge is equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes.

What are some signs that my teen might be vaping and what do e-cigs look like?

Many of the teens that are vaping likely would not have been smoking at all if we were talking about traditional cigarettes. Vaping devices can come in different shapes and sizes and can be very easy to hide. They can look just like a traditional cigarette or they can look like other common items such as pens, flash drives or key fobs. There are also a variety of vape flavors that have been very appealing for youth, especially when they sound harmless. But in fact, these products can pose severe health risks. Because of the rise of these severe and even deadly cases, there has been extensive movement within our government system with strong pushes for more stringent Food and Drug Administration regulation, banning of flavors that are on the market, and increase in availability of educational tools and resources for adults and teens to help them quit vaping.

How can parents help teens quit vaping?


  • Try to have an open and honest conversation. Be familiar with the different product names and routinely ask your teens about any type of tobacco use, including vaping products.
  • Let them know vaping is not harmless. Discuss the importance of avoiding these products and discuss the harms that these substances can have on their health.
  • Ask them why. Your teen may be vaping or using substances to deal with stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Set a good example, don’t vape and don’t let others vape around your teen.
  • Addiction and dependence are real, especially with products containing nicotine. There are helpful resources through the CDC and organizations such as the Truth Initiative to help young people stop vaping.
  • Talk to your doctor about the possibility of needing prescription medications or referral to treatment centers to help your teen quit.


On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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