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Lungs are meant to breathe clean air, but Michael Fields, a pediatric pulmonologist with Prisma Health-Upstate, said the use of vaping products (e-cigarettes) by kids and teens is a growing problem. And parents may not have any idea that their child is addicted.

“Vaping is a relatively new phenomenon,” he said. “It started as a way to deliver nicotine to help adults quit smoking.”

But Fields doesn’t mince words when it comes to the bottom line of tobacco-turned-vaping companies.

“They saw it as an opportunity to hook a new generation,” he said. “They started to market it as healthy – ‘you’re just inhaling water’ – which is flat out not true.”

E-cigarettes heat fluid that contains highly addictive nicotine, appealing flavors, and potentially other chemicals. The vapor does not smell like cigarette smoke and the devices themselves are easy to disguise. 

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, South Carolina is one of several states where it is illegal for minors to purchase or to be in the possession of e-cigarettes/electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). 

Fields wants parents to know that this is happening and their child is not immune.

“It’s done right under their noses,” he said. 

They may seem safe to young people, but Fields said delicate lungs are not designed to inhale the products.

“You’re inhaling fine particles and you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said. “The amount of nicotine in one cartridge is more than in a pack of cigarettes. They get hooked and they don’t even realize it. They’re fooled into thinking it isn’t bad for them.”

Fields encourages parents to communicate with their children about vaping.

“Talk about data that shows it’s bad,” Fields said. “It’s not just happening to somebody else. Explain the risks. Ask kids why they are sold in ways that blend in. Point out that big tobacco owns these companies. Fifty years ago, they were trying to say that cigarettes were healthy. It doesn’t make sense that they should be heating up anything and inhaling it in their lungs. It’s a matter of education and information and open communication. We have to talk to kids before middle school.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a wealth of information online about vaping, including a tip sheet for talking with teens about vaping, information for parents and teachers about what vaping devices look like and how they can be concealed and more. Visit https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm.

The CDC is currently tracking an outbreak of severe lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarettes. South Carolina is included. Learn more at https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html.

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