- 18-year-old Chance Ammirata went viral in August for posting photos showing a lung collapse he said was due to vaping. The photo included black dots he said indicate damage similar to smoking.
- “Spontaneous pneuomothorax,” a type of lung collapse, is one possible explanation. It’s especially prevalent among tall, skinny men like Ammirata, though experts aren’t sure why.
- While vaping has been linked to a rash of injuries and even deaths, there’s no way to prove a cause and effect relationship.
- Though it is clear that vaping can be dangerous, it’s unclear exactly why because here’s not enough data on vaping’s effects, especially long term.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
More than 41,000 people have shared a viral photo showing a teenager’s lung that’s partially collapsed and covered in mysterious black dots. The teen, Chance Ammirata, has since started a petition to end vaping, saying his Juul habit was to blame for the injury, which required major surgery.
His story is one of many in a seeming epidemic of injuries related to e-cigarettes and similar devices. It also a highlights a major problem: Experts can’t confirm that vaping is the cause of the injuries, or rule out other potential factors in the damage.
“There is no doubt that vaping is doing stuff to people, but it’s not clear what,” Professor Robert Tarran, who studies vaping at the University of North Carolina Marisco Lung Institute, told Insider.
Chance Ammirate via TwitterA teen and former vaper’s viral tweet.
Vaping injuries are difficult to prove, with other possible explanations for injury
Tarran explained that spontaneous pneumothorax occurs when blebs, or small pockets of air in the lungs, break off, causing the lung to collapse. The condition is particularly common among tall, skinny males, although doctors don’t know why. He believes this might explain Ammirata’s injury, but said it’s “very hard” to prove a cause and effect relationship.
Lung injury and disease can increase the risk of a pneumothorax, so it has been linked to smoking, but also genetics and other factors. Chest injury, or a sudden physical impact to the chest area, can also cause pneumothorax.
The condition can also occur for no obvious reasons, and has affected people long before vapes were invented. Approximately 30,000 to 70,000 people in the U.S. experience a spontaneous pneumothorax each year, according to research.
Ammirata isn’t the only case of lung injury that’s difficult to prove was caused by vaping. Dr. Junaid Khan, a heart and lung surgeon in Oakland, California, recently completed a surgery to remove a blister from the lung of a teen vaper.
“I can’t prove to you this was related to vaping,” Khan previously told Insider, referring to a scan showing a dark, collapsed lung where a blister had popped in his patient’s chest cavity. “It could be something else, but there’s definitely an association.”
Vaping is still dangerous, it’s just unclear exactly why
Just because it can’t be proven that some lung injuries are caused by vaping doesn’t mean vaping isn’t dangerous.
As of September 6, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 450 cases of vaping-related illnesses in 33 states and confirmed five deaths. The CDC, Food and Drug Administration, and doctors are telling anyone who uses e-cigarettes or vapes to abstain while the two agencies work with local health departments to investigate the causes of the illnesses.
“It is at this point very clear that vaping is not only unhealthy, but it is very dangerous. This is not anymore a debate. I urge everyone to refrain from vaping anything,” Dr. Melodi Pirzada, a pediatric pulmonologist at NYU Winthrop, told Insider.
But the question remains: Why are they so dangerous?
Experts believe some component of the vape ingredients or “e-juice” may be causing inflammation.
Vitamin E acetate, a component of vegetable oil, is a common ingredient and one possible culprit. Although it’s meant as carrier to turn nicotine or THC into aerosol users can inhale, it may be ending up in people’s lungs, causing an aggressive immune response.
There’s also a lack of regulation in the growing industry of vaping products, making it difficult for users, and medical professionals, to determine what’s in the vapes and how they might affect people.
More data is necessary to fully understand how vaping affects health, especially long term.
“It takes 30 years, over the course of a lifetime, to develop emphysema or cancer from smoking. So we may not know until people spend a lifetime vaping,” Tarran said. “People who are vaping now are taking part in a real-life human experiment.”
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