As concern grows nationwide over health risks related to vaping, an informal online survey of e-cigarette users conducted by Boyle Heights Beat found that most high school students using the devices do so to inhale marihuana.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning against e-cigarettes, following a spate of serious cases of severe lung ailments linked to the use of the product. Since April, seven people have died and 380 have become ill from vaping.
The latest death was reported Monday in Tulare County in Central California. A health officer there said the death of the unidentified 40-year-old man was “suspected to be related to severe pulmonary injury associated with vaping.”
According to the CDC, most patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, the principal psychoactive component in cannabis. Many patients have reported using THC and nicotine, while some have reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.
But the majority of high school students surveyed by BHB reported smoking e-cigarettes containing THC.
“I do it every day unless I run out,” said Sheila, a 16-year-old high school student who said she first smoked weed at the age of 11, but didn’t start using vaping pens until she was 15. “At this point, I just feel calmer and relaxed. I do it in my room, the bathroom, the living room really anywhere I’m alone or with people I trust.”
Because the legal age to get recreational marijuana in California is 21, and the age for medicinal cannabis is 18, Sheila said she currently gets her marijuana from her older sister.
Another student reported smoking marijuana to help with her anxiety.
“I lost my pen recently and I’m okay, but my anxiety gets a little worse if I don’t have it,” said Julie, 17, who started smoking when she was a freshman in high school. Julie also gets her marijuana from an older sibling.
The survey, conducted on Instagram by Boyle Heights Beat Students, asked who was using e-cigarettes and what was their age and elicited over 300 responses. Of those that answered yes, a majority said they were high school students and of those, most reported smoking e-cigarettes containing THC.
While the CDC recommended that everyone stay away from e-cigarettes while the illnesses are investigated, they advised that anyone who uses them should not buy vaping products with THC and other cannabinoids off the street, and should not modify or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer.
The growing health crisis surrounding vaping has prompted several states to consider banning the use of flavored liquids in the manufacture of vaping products that critics say are intended to hook children to the product. On Monday, California governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that directs state officials to find ways to end sales of those liquids in the state.
Several Boyle Heights Beat reporters contributed to this story.
This post was edited on Sept. 17 to include seventh death related to vaping.
Photo above by Creative Commons user oron3.