An alarming “culture shift” has led to a rise in elementary school children vaping at school, as experts warn users can develop a deadly lung disease.
A study of 196 Australian schools found that more than a third of primary school staff observed young students vaping, with almost half of the children admitting they had smuggled the products from their homes when confronted by teachers.
High schools were also included in the study, showing that 80 percent of them were aware of a vaping problem.
It comes as US specialists discovered that vaping can develop “popcorn” lung disease, which has a devastating five percent survival rate and is more deadly than lung cancer.
Experts warn that users of vape and e-cigarette nicotine devices are prone to developing “popcorn lung,” a condition that requires a lung transplant and can even be fatal in more severe cases
Professor Simone Pettigrew of the George Institute for Global Health, the organization that led the study, told Daily Mail Australia the statistics are alarming.
“You now have elementary school kids who are addicted to nicotine and aren’t even aware of it, and addiction at that young age has implications for brain development and long-term addiction,” Prof Pettigrew said.
Nicotine e-cigarettes are illegal in Australia unless someone has a prescription to help them quit their smoking habit.
The program director said e-cigarettes containing nicotine are packaged in a specific way that disguises the nicotine content, leading children to buy cigarettes that contain nicotine.
“So the kids buy them thinking they vape those fruity flavors that don’t have nicotine in them, but they actually have it.”
Professor Simone Pettigrew of the George Institute for Global Health said half of the elementary school children in the study were pinching their family’s steam supply
“It appears that some suppliers package their nicotine-containing products as nicotine-free to avoid prosecution for selling nicotine vapes,” said Prof. Pettigrew.
A third of high school students and nearly half of elementary school-age children took vaping products from parents and siblings without permission.
“That’s one of the main ways younger kids are tackling this, by taking mum and dad’s supplies to school – I don’t think the parents even know that’s happening,” Prof Pettigrew said.
About 18 percent of kids in elementary and high school said their parents or guardians gave them the vapes.
Half of the staff who reported children vaping at their schools also said there was a decrease in students’ mental well-being, athletic performance and social interactions.
A third of these teachers saw an increase in mood swings and behaviors attributed to vaping, including increased irritability, tardiness, restlessness and absenteeism.
Less than half of them said academic performance had declined, with trends evident in both primary and secondary schools.
There was a notable difference in academic decline between state and independent students—49 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, vaping and e-cigarette devices continue to be viewed as safe alternatives to cigarettes, but experts warn users can develop devastating conditions, including “popcorn lung.”
Bronchiolitis obliterans, the official medical diagnosis for popcorn lung, occurs when a person’s lungs become severely scarred from inhaling dangerous chemicals or from some type of infection.
Experts in the US warn that many users of electronic nicotine devices – like Juul and HQD – are developing the condition at an alarming rate, especially at a younger age when these types of conditions are rare.
dr Panagis Galiatsatos, director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins University in the US, told DailyMail.com those suffering from the most severe cases of the disease are likely to die of respiratory failure within five years of developing it.
Vaping suppliers package products to make them appear nicotine-free when they’re not – so kids buy them believing they can safely vape those fruity flavors
The controversy surrounding these devices has flared up again in recent weeks after the US Food and Drug Administration decided to pull Juul products off shelves before giving the company a temporary grace period as it reassessed its decision.
“Whether vaping, e-cigarettes or combustible cigarettes. They all contain harmful chemicals that take advantage of nicotine’s addictive properties,” Mr Galiatsatos said.
Many companies that market these products claim their value lies in helping users of combustible tobacco products — like cigarettes — use a safer alternative instead.
Tobacco itself is dangerous, and cigarettes also contain many other chemicals that put users at risk for several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems.
dr Panagis Galiatsatos, director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic at Johns Hopkins, warns that the five-year mortality rate from popcorn lung disease could be as high as 95%
However, nicotine is the substance that a user actually becomes addicted to, and it’s safer to ditch the rest of the dangerous chemicals and just let a person use the drug on their own — according to e-cigarette and e-cigarette makers.
However, some experts are sounding the alarm that this is not entirely the case.
“You often hear that using e-cigarettes or vaping is less of a problem than using a nicotine delivery device. But it has its own potential health issues that come with it,” said Dr. Clayton Cowl, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic, told DailyMail.com.
“The problem with a lot of the newer devices that are coming out is that it’s not just about nicotine, there are other products that can be placed in these devices that, when aerosolized, cause significant health problems can cause.”
He described it as “picking your poison,” which dangerous device a person wants to use.
As with cigarettes, the main hazard of these products is not the nicotine itself, but the other chemicals mixed with it.
Diacetyl is a chemical commonly used to flavor foods and is perfectly safe when taken orally.
When vaporized, it is extremely harmful to the lungs of someone who inhales it, and continued exposure can cause catastrophic long-term health problems.
Its link to bronchiolitis obliterans was discovered in the early 2000s when workers at a popcorn factory in Missouri, USA, suddenly began developing the disease.
An investigation found that the diacetyl used to flavor the popcorn was to blame, hence the nickname “popcorn lungs”.
Diacetyl is also used as a flavoring agent in many electronic nicotine products.
“It’s as brutal as a disease as it sounds…if you develop it, 95 percent of the time you’ll die within five years,” Galiatsatos said, adding that it’s more deadly than lung cancer — the disease that kills most of the world most commonly associated with nicotine use.
The news comes after Australian children began succumbing to the effects of vaping.
Schoolgirl Dakota Stephenson, 15, from Sydney, spent three days on partial ventilation and struggled to breathe after starting vaping in 2020
In 2020, Sydney teen Dakota Stephenson was hospitalized with a high temperature and back pain, seven months after she first vaped with friends at school.
Dakota was diagnosed with hypoxia within hours – meaning her lungs weren’t getting enough air – and spent three days on partial ventilation to help breathe.
Her doctors at Randwick Children’s Hospital believe she suffered from a lung condition called EVALI, which was first reported in the US in 2019.
EVALI — which stands for E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury — is thought to be caused by vapes containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound also found in marijuana, and the additive vitamin E acetate.
Dakota’s mother, Natasha Stephenson, didn’t find out her daughter had started vaping until she was admitted to the hospital.
Ms Pettigrew said schools and parents together can help raise children’s awareness of the risks of e-cigarette use.
“One of my concerns is that everything ends up at the door of schools and they are expected to solve all of society’s problems – but we need to get parents much more involved so they know vaping is not healthy.”