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STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.5, WHST.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.5, RI.6-8.7, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.5, SL.6-8.6

NCSS: Individual Development and Identity • Power, Authority, and Governance • Production, Distribution, and Consumption

SPOTLIGHT

The Vaping Crisis

Vaping has been linked to a surge in mysterious life-threatening illnesses. What can be done to stop it?

As You Read, Think About: How does vaping affect people? What are some people doing in response?

This past summer, Piper Johnson suddenly became deathly ill. The Illinois teen was driving with her mother to college in Colorado. The week before, Piper, 18, had felt pain in her chest but had put it out of her mind. Now, in the car, her temperature spiked and her heart started racing. She ended up in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines—terrified and sobbing because it hurt so much to simply breathe.

Doctors took an X-ray and detected fluid in Piper’s lungs. At first, they thought she had a form of pneumonia. It wasn’t that. The doctors connected the dots when Piper told them that she’d been vaping—using e-cigarettes—for a couple of years. That summer she’d been doing it heavily, going through up to three pods a week.

Piper is among a growing number of people, many of them teens, who have recently wound up in emergency rooms with lung injuries related to vaping. As this issue went to press, more than 2,100 cases had been reported since last spring, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Forty-two victims had died. The youngest of them was just 13. 

U.S. health officials are now trying urgently to determine what is causing the illnesses. Officials say there is still a lot they don’t know about vaping—including what’s actually in e-cigarettes. As their investigation continues, they have issued a stark warning to Americans: Stop vaping—immediately.

This past summer, Piper Johnson quickly became deathly ill. The Illinois teen was driving with her mother to college in Colorado. The week before, Piper, 18, had felt pain in her chest. She had put it out of her mind. Now, in the car, her temperature spiked and her heart started racing. Piper ended up in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines. She was scared and sobbing because it hurt so much just to breathe.

Doctors took an X-ray and saw fluid in Piper’s lungs. At first, they thought she had a form of pneumonia. It was not that. The doctors connected the dots when Piper told them that she had been vaping—using e-cigarettes—for a couple of years. That summer she had been doing it a lot. She had gone through up to three pods a week.

Piper is among a growing number of people who have recently wound up in emergency rooms with lung injuries related to vaping. Many of them are teens. As this issue went to press, more than 2,100 cases had been reported since last spring. That is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Forty-two victims had died. The youngest of them was just 13.

U.S. health officials are now trying urgently to figure out what is causing the illnesses. Officials say there is still a lot they do not know about vaping. That includes what is actually in e-cigarettes. As their investigation continues, they have issued a clear warning to Americans: Stop vaping. Immediately.

Teens and E-cigarettes

In almost every state, you have to be at least 18 years old to buy or use e-cigarettes. Yet vaping has skyrocketed among American minors in the past few years. According to a recent government study, more than a quarter of high school students had vaped in the past month—over double the rate in 2017. More than 10 percent of middle schoolers also reported that they had used e-cigarettes.

Many teens have been attracted to the sleek devices and tobacco-masking flavors—such as mango and mint—made by Juul Labs. That company sells the majority of vaping devices and pods in the U.S. Juul’s popularity among youth may not be accidental. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating whether the company intentionally marketed its products to American kids and teens.

In almost every state, you have to be at least 18 years old to buy or use e-cigarettes. Yet vaping has skyrocketed among American minors in the past few years. According to a recent government study, more than a quarter of high school students had vaped in the past month. This is more than double the rate in 2017. More than 10 percent of middle schoolers also reported that they had used e-cigarettes.

Many teens have been attracted to the sleek devices and tobacco-masking flavors—such as mango and mint—made by Juul Labs. That company sells the majority of vaping devices and pods in the U.S. Juul’s popularity among youth may not be accidental. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been looking into whether the company purposely marketed its products to American kids and teens.

via Instagram

Vaping left this teen in the hospital, fighting for her life. Her sister posted this photo on Instagram.

A Serious Health Threat

Invented about 15 years ago, e-cigarettes have often been advertised as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco. But because e-cigarettes are relatively new, researchers say, not enough research has been done to study all their effects. “There is so much we don’t know,” says Dr. Emily Chapman of the Children’s Minnesota hospital system.

One thing doctors do know for sure: E-cigs deliver dangerous amounts of nicotine. One Juul pod contains about as much as a pack of 20 cigarettes. 

What’s the big deal? Nicotine can damage your brain, specifically the parts that control your mood, learning, and attention span, says Thomas Ylioja of National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. Plus, nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Once you’re hooked, your brain wants more, “even at the risk of your own health,” says Ylioja, an expert in helping people quit smoking. 

E-cigarettes were invented about 15 years ago. They have often been advertised as being safer than smoking tobacco. But because e-cigarettes are relatively new, researchers say, not enough research has been done to study all their effects. “There is so much we don’t know,” says Dr. Emily Chapman of the Children’s Minnesota hospital system.

Doctors do know one thing for sure. E-cigs deliver dangerous amounts of nicotine. One Juul pod contains about as much as a pack of 20 cigarettes.

What is the big deal? Nicotine can damage your brain. It can harm the parts that control your mood, learning, and attention span, says Thomas Ylioja. He works at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. Plus, nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Once you are hooked, your brain wants more, “even at the risk of your own health,” says Ylioja, who is an expert in helping people quit smoking.

Teens are increasingly aware of the dangers of vaping.

Vaping may also be destroying users’ lungs. One teen vaper in Texas had so much lung damage that doctors had to put him on a machine for 12 days so he could breathe. A study found that some patients’ lungs looked like those of people who’d been exposed to toxic chemical spills. 

“We don’t know how well people will recover from the injuries, whether lung damage might be permanent,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC. 

Experts haven’t pinned down exactly what is causing the recent outbreak of vaping-related illnesses. Most of the victims had been vaping products with THC, a chemical in marijuana. But some reported that they’d vaped only e-cigarettes with nicotine. Health officials are particularly worried about black market vaping products—especially those with THC—that were bought illegally on the street or online. Still, Piper says she mostly used Juul and other nicotine vapes that she bought in a store.

Vaping may also be destroying users’ lungs. One teen vaper in Texas had so much lung damage that doctors had to put him on a machine for 12 days so he could breathe. A study found that some patients’ lungs looked like those of people who had been exposed to poisonous chemical spills.

“We don’t know how well people will recover from the injuries, whether lung damage might be permanent,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC.

Experts have not pinned down exactly what is causing the recent outbreak of vaping-related illnesses. Most of the victims had been vaping products with THC. THC is a chemical in marijuana. But some victims reported that they had vaped only e-cigarettes with nicotine. Health officials are particularly worried about black market vaping products, especially those with THC, that were bought illegally on the street or online. Still, Piper says she mostly used Juul and other nicotine vapes that she bought in a store.

Cracking Down on Vaping

A number of states have become alarmed at the rising number of young people who are vaping. They have sought to discourage the use of e-cigarettes by banning the fruit-flavored vapes teens love most. (In response to criticism about targeting kids, Juul has announced that it will stop selling fruit- and mint-flavored pods.) 

In addition, lawmakers are calling on the FDA to move faster to study e-cigarettes and determine the harmful elements they might contain. One bill currently in Congress would require the government to educate Americans about the dangers of vaping, as it has done for years about smoking tobacco (see sidebar, below).

The good news is that teens are increasingly aware of the dangers of vaping—and new groups are helping them kick the habit. For example, one national organization, The Truth Initiative, offers a free text-messaging program to coach teens and their parents through the process. 

As for Piper, her terrifying visit to the hospital was a serious wake-up call. Left with chemical burns on her lungs that may never go away, she has since quit vaping. Today, Piper is focused on raising awareness among young people about the risks of vaping. In October, she attended a National Day of Action rally in Washington, D.C., and spoke to senators about regulating vaping.

“It’s kind of like we’re the guinea pigs when it comes to vaping, just like our grandparents’ generation was when it came to cigarettes,” Piper says. “People have to realize it’s not worth the buzz. It could cost you your life.”

A number of states have become alarmed at the rising number of young people who are vaping. They have tried to discourage the use of e-cigarettes by banning the fruit-flavored vapes teens love most. In response to criticism about targeting kids, Juul has announced that it will stop selling fruit- and mint-flavored pods.

In addition, lawmakers are calling on the FDA to move faster to study e-cigarettes and figure out what harmful elements they might contain. One bill now in Congress would require the government to educate Americans about the dangers of vaping. It has done this for years about smoking tobacco (see sidebar, below).

The good news is that teens are becoming more aware of the dangers of vaping. Plus, new groups are helping them kick the habit. For example, one national organization, the Truth Initiative, offers a free text-messaging program. It coaches teens and their parents through the quitting process.

As for Piper, her terrifying visit to the hospital was a serious wake-up call. She was left with chemical burns on her lungs that may never go away. Piper has since quit vaping. Today, she is focused on raising awareness among young people about the risks of vaping. In October, she went to a National Day of Action rally in Washington, D.C. She also spoke to senators about regulating vaping.

“It’s kind of like we’re the guinea pigs when it comes to vaping, just like our grandparents’ generation was when it came to cigarettes,” Piper says. “People have to realize it’s not worth the buzz. It could cost you your life.”

Write About It! Write an informative essay on why vaping is a problem and how people are responding to it. Rephrase evidence from the text in your own words and put quotation marks around exact phrases.

The Fight Over Tobacco

Images Courtesy of The Advertising Archives

These ads were intended to make smoking seem cool.

In the past, Americans seemed to smoke cigarettes everywhere: in restaurants, at work, even in school! Then, in the early 1960s, studies began to link tobacco to lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Suddenly, smoking was scary.

Yet at first, smoking rates remained high. So the federal government issued a series of regulations to try to discourage smoking. For instance, it forced tobacco companies to put harsh health warnings on cigarette packages. Cigarette ads were blocked from TV. Many public health campaigns also educated people about the dangers of smoking.

But the major tobacco companies fought back. They spread disinformation about the science and sought to make smoking look cool with slick ads in magazines.

Eventually, the regulations and education campaigns had an effect. Today, the smoking rate among Americans is about half of what it was in the early 1960s. Still, about 34 million adults and millions of young people continue to smoke cigarettes. Nearly half a million Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year. 

In the past, Americans seemed to smoke cigarettes everywhere: in restaurants, at work, even in school! Then, in the early 1960s, studies began to link tobacco to lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Suddenly, smoking was scary.

Yet at first, smoking rates remained high. So the federal government issued a series of regulations to try to discourage smoking. For instance, it forced tobacco companies to put harsh health warnings on cigarette packages. Cigarette ads were blocked from TV. Many public health campaigns also educated people about the dangers of smoking.

But the major tobacco companies fought back. They spread disinformation about the science and sought to make smoking look cool with slick ads in magazines.

Eventually, the regulations and education campaigns had an effect. Today, the smoking rate among Americans is about half of what it was in the early 1960s. Still, about 34 million adults and millions of young people continue to smoke cigarettes. Nearly half a million Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year. 

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