TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - In part one of "Catch Your Breath" our look at the risk of vaping, a community health expert explained what the irreversible lung disease popcorn lung is and what it has to do with e-cigarettes.
In part two, a respiratory therapist explains how the lungs are impacted by the chemical, found in many of the e-juices, is damaging the lungs of teens and adults right there in our area.
In 2015 the Hospital Council of NW Ohio found roughly 11% of 6th through 12th graders in our area tried e-cigarettes at some point in the previous year.
That same year, is when Harvard's School of Public Health concluded from there study that urgent action is needed to evaluate the potentially widespread exposure to diacetyl from vaping.
"We don't grow new lung tissue," said Holly Kowalski, respiratory therapist at St. Luke's Hospital Tobacco Treatment Center. "It doesn't matter how long you've been quit. If you're a smoker. If you take things into your lungs and you've damaged your lungs, it's not coming back. You have to learn to live with what's left."\
Kowalski has been working with teens caught smoking at school in our area for 28 years. In the last six years, she's been startled by the perception students have about the dangers of vaping.
"The years that the FDA did not assert their authority over these products allowed the tobacco industry to get a foothold in another generation of our children," Kowalski said.
Kowalski said many vape shops opened up as "mom and pop" shops but large tobacco companies started buying them up and advertising heavily to teens.
The sleek design and fun flavors all without the smell and stigma of traditional cigarettes, made e-cigs very popular quickly.
"The problem with e-cigs and vaping is that the concoction that they are inhaling is not harsh," Kowalski said. "It goes down easily. They inhale deeper."
This smoothness, she explains is what she worries about. She said cigarettes are self-limiting, meaning the smoke has a harshness and someone likely won't inhale as deep.
The problem is, researchers know the flavoring chemical diacetyl is in many, if not thousands, of the nearly 7,000 e-juice flavors.
Kowalski said because the chemical can be inhaled deeper, doctors and respiratory therapists are seeing signs of damage to lung tissue in the lower portion of the lungs.
"This damage here can really change your lifestyle," Kowalski said. "Very much change your way of doing things, your ability to exercise. Your ability to do work. Sometimes just your ability to get through a normal day."
She can't say with 100 per cent certainty that what the students are experiencing is "Popcorn Lung" or bronchiolitis obliterans. But recent research shows there is a direct correlation between inhaling the flavoring chemical diacetyl and the irreversible loss of lung function.
Kowalski also said there needs to be more studies done to really grasp the severity of the damage to the lungs caused by vaping.
There is some good news though. In 2017 the Hospital Council of NW Ohio said there was a small decline in the number of students who said they've vaped in the last year. And recently the FDA put e-cigarettes and e-juice under current tobacco regulations.