20190915- Vaping Epidemic- TBentley

As illnesses due to vaping increase, a local vape shop has seen no change in business and GU Health Center evaluates care. 

Scrolling on the website for local vape shop Sublime Vapors, the warning, “This product contains Nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical,” looms at the top of every page in unavoidable, bold scroll.

On Monday, The Spokesman-Review reported that the Washington State Department of Health confirmed two cases of severe lung disease in Spokane County linked to vaping, bringing the statewide total to three.

According to TIME magazine, the total number of vaping-related deaths in the U.S. has gone up to seven since the end of August. As of Sept. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease linked to vaping in 36 states.

Because of this sudden medical crisis, the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center to intensify its investigation into cases of vaping-related illnesses.

The New York Times reported that “CDC officials said they believe that some “chemical” is involved as the cause but they have not identified a single responsible “device, product or substance,” Dr. Meaney-Delman said.

“The big problem we have right now is we have a whole bunch of illicit THC cartridges and that’s what’s getting people sick regardless of what the news media tells you,” said Joey Blodgett, general manager of Sublime Vapors in north Spokane.

Early symptoms of vaping-related illness include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, coughing and fever, escalating to shortness of breath, which can become so extreme it may require hospitalization. Nationwide, sudden vaping related illnesses have been sweeping teens and young adults into hospitals.

With this in mind, it is important to consider what Gonzaga can provide to deal with this health epidemic.

“If a student came in and said they had all of those symptoms, we would be working with them to say ‘OK, what else has been going on, how long has it been going on,’ checking symptoms, what would it look like if they’re in respiratory distress,” said Jill Yashinsky-Wortman, interim assistant dean of Student Well-Being & Healthy Living.

Health & Counseling Services will look at things such as monitoring the oxygen level in their blood and seeing if that’s going up or down. If that’s not at a safe number, their first call is going to be to 911.

“We haven’t seen anything to the severity of what’s been in the news, nor seen anything that we can directly correlate to vaping or Juuling yet,” Yashinsky-Wortman said.

The service they can provide is very similar to going to a family practice doctor’s office, so they’re not going to be prepared to do long-term emergency care.

“For us, it’s really going to be trying to do the same things any doctor’s office would do, which is to treat those symptoms and then figure out if they are responding to that treatment,” Yashinsky-Wortman said. “If it’s breathing things, are they responding to nebulizer treatments or breathing treatments to help make them better?”

Health & Counseling Services is always going to try to provide the base-level treatment for  a non-emergency that it can in-house, but if it’s not working, it will refer to its community partners.

“I think our providers do a really good job of knowing what their scope of care is and what we can provide here,” Yashinsky-Wortman said. “We’ve got great community partners that help with a lot of other thing.” 

Community partners can be hospitals, clinics or specialists.

“We have students who will come in and when we ask things about substance use habits, whether that be alcohol, drugs or marijuana, they may say that they vape or Juul,” Yashinsky-Wortman said. “If a student comes in with an upper respiratory infection or something, we are absolutely going to encourage them to cut back because that’s not going to help their lungs and everything heal healthily.”

Health & Counseling Services can only deal with the information students provide.

“We’re going to ask a lot of questions and if you forget or choose not to tell us, it makes it more difficult at times for us to treat because we don’t know if we’re treating the right thing,” Yashinsky-Wortman said.

Given the recent illnesses, the Spokane Regional Health District and the CDC have talked more with some high schools as they’ve seen a large amount of vaping in those populations.

Now that the negative effects that are direct results of vaping are plastered across the news, it is unknown if this habit’s popularity will decrease.   

“We know sometimes that when the government steps in to regulate things in a different way, stuff might decrease if it’s not accessible anymore because simply we’ve taken that option away,” Yashinsky-Wortman said. “You never know with these things of what will happen and what is going to be enough to change and compel people to change their behaviors.” 

In the past couple of months with the deaths linked to vaping, Blodgett has not seen a decrease in sales of Juul or vape products at Sublime Vapors, which has been selling for six years.

“There’s a lot of misinformation, there’s a lot of pumped up news media hype going on right now,” Blodgett said. “We actually don’t sell any pre-sold pods, everything we sell is a separate juice. I can tell you where every juice comes from and all of the ingredients in all of them as well.”

Spring 2019 survey results from the National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA-II) at GU showcased that vaping is fairly popular within the student population.

“E-cig (vaping) use is higher than smoking cigarettes, and higher among male-identified students,” said Jenna Parisi, director of the Office of Health Promotion. “Students also believe a lot more students are using than actual report doing so.” 

Out of the sample size of 669 undergraduate students who answered the questionnaire, 13% of males had used cigarettes within the last 30 days and 4.1% of females. For electronic cigarettes, 22.7% of males partook within the last 30 days and 11.8% of females.

In terms of perception, undergrads think that 83% of their peers vape.

Combating the use of Juuls and vapes is a difficult challenge for GU.

“From a campus perspective, I don’t know what we could do more than what we are doing already in terms of how we’ve got smoking bans on things and spaces around buildings,” Yashinsky-Wortman said. “I do know that obviously these devices are more subtle, and easier to have, without the smells and giveaways, so it can be easier for someone to be using them.”

Juliette Carey is an A&E editor. Follow her on Twitter: @jujucray.

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