How vaping is harming the most innocent of bystanders

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 3, 2023

By Dr. Jennifer Richards

Health planner for the Lawrence County Health Department

On Oct. 19, Ohio Department of Health Director Bruce Vanderhoff, M.D., MBA, held a press conference in which he warned about an increase of injuries caused by exposures to eCigarette devices, also known as vapes, that contain liquid nicotine. 

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He emphasized that these injuries have increased dramatically for Ohio children five years old and younger since 2015.

The table accompanying this article shows eCigarette liquid exposure data from Ohio Poison Centers since 2015.

The most alarming trend is for children 0-5 years old. Of the 1,762 total exposures reported in this time-period, 1,301 (more than 70 percent) have been reported for this most vulnerable age group.

Young children and babies mimic what they see older youth and adults doing, such as handling vape pens or taking a puff. Liquid nicotine is rapidly absorbed through contact with the skin or when swallowed and can result in symptoms in just minutes, particularly in very young children. 

This is especially alarming because young children can be poisoned by taking a puff from a vape, swallowing the vape liquid, or by simply touching it. Symptoms of a small exposure include nausea and vomiting. A large exposure can affect heart rate, blood pressure and cause seizures. 

Even more troubling, in addition to nicotine, eCigarette liquid can also contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), substances found in marijuana/cannabis. Both THC and CBD work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in the brain. They can affect things like pain, mood, sleep and memory. 

Symptoms of THC/CBD intoxication in children can range from loss of coordination, to any degree of sleepiness (from mild drowsiness to being unable to “wake up”), to trouble breathing.

If a child does have an exposure, you can call the Poison Control Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-222-1222 to speak to poison specialists. 

In addition to accidental eCigarette liquid exposures in very young children and babies, this age group is also at risk for secondhand eCigarette aerosol exposure. The aerosol emitted by eCigarettes can expose nonusers (including children and infants) to aerosolized nicotine and other harmful substances such as heavy metals, formaldehyde and chemical byproducts of the heating process, which are not safe to breathe. Children are particularly vulnerable because of their lower body weight and developing lungs. 

Being exposed to even low levels of the components in vape aerosol can negatively affect brain and lung development in young children and babies.

The good news is that there are many things that concerned adults and older youth can do to protect our youngest and most vulnerable children from the harms of eCigarettes. 

Keep your home vape-free. Ban vaping in your vehicle. Ask other people, such as grandparents and babysitters, not to vape around your child. Advocate for eCigarette policy change in public spaces. Taking these steps will reduce their exposure to secondhand vape aerosol.

Never leave vape parts, including chemical cartridges, anywhere that babies or young kids can reach them. 

Avoid vaping in front of young children, since eCigarettes and their components often look very attractive to young children because they are bright and colorful, and the scents of the flavored chemicals are often sweet like candy.

If you have decided to quit vaping but are not quite there yet, or if others in your life currently vape, it’s extremely important to practice thorough hygiene to protect your children from any vaping residue. Always change your clothes and wash your hands thoroughly to remove residual vape chemicals before touching a baby, young child, or pregnant person.

The best way of all to protect children from the harms of eCigarette liquid and secondhand aerosol exposures is this: Don’t vape, and if you do vape, quit. 

Despite that sound advice, vaping is highly addictive and can be very hard to quit. But quitting IS possible; a good place to start is to contact the Ohio Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT NOW, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Lawrence County Health Department is also here to help. Prevention is key! We provide health education talks to middle school and high school students, educators, and parents about the harms of vaping, and promote the prevention of eCigarette use. 

If you would like us to come talk to your organization, please call us at 740-532-3962 to schedule a talk.