I-TEAM: '[Injuries] to the groin...the pants catch on fire': Federal officials, local docs share concerns over vape use

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Thursday, August 29, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

Photo courtesy: vaping360.com/e-cigarettes/ (Vaping360) / CC BY 2.0

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- The federal government is voicing concern over E-cigarette use. Locally, so are our the doctors. More than a hundred patients have come through JMS Burn Center for vaping related burns.

More high school students than ever are vaping. The CDC reports a whopping 78 percent increase among teens between 2017 and 2018.

In Georgia, health officials now are investigating a string of severe respiratory illness in people using vaping products.

Once a week, on average, someone ends up in local hospitals because of burns caused by an e-cigarette. Now the danger has expanded outside of explosions. Doctors are now treating patients for a lung illness possibly caused by vaping.

The explosions and burns alone are horrifying, according to Beretta Coffman, who works at JMS Burn Center. She describes the injuries as "punctured or a hole in someone's eardrum...teeth are actually blown from their mouth... and (injuries to) the groin or to the thigh because the pants will then catch on fire."

“It’s like having an explosive device in your pocket,” Coffman said.

Coffman has seen more than a hundred patients for e-cigarette burns over the last three years.

"It's dangerous,” Coffman said. “It's like having an explosive device in your pocket or it's like sucking on a firework."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 200 cases nationwide of "severe unexplained respiratory symptoms after reported vaping or e-cigarette use." There have been more than 2,000 calls to poison control nationwide just from January to July this year.

The youngest vaping patient to end up at Doctor’s Hospital was only 12.

"It's very scary, and parents need to wake up and talk to their kids about it,” parent Kristina Pack said.

Pack woke up after finding out kids were vaping at her child's school.

"I think that's where middle schoolers start -- after school activities waiting outside or just hanging out with their friends,” Pack said.

Pack also believes the devices are being marketed toward kids.

“The flavorings they make it sound fun and what kid doesn't want to do fun?” Pack said.

One out of 20 middle schoolers now vape. In high school? One out of 5.

"We are especially concerned about young people using e-cigarettes because their brain is developing,” Christina O’Meara said.

O'Meara warns e-cigs especially can be easily hidden too. The Juul, one of the most popular e-cigarettes, looks like a jump drive.

Pack is a student at Augusta University with plans on becoming a teacher. This semester she's working on project with a classmates. It's a PSA to educate other parents about the dangers of vaping, too.

"I was ignorant myself of the injuries that could take place and the chemicals, the carcinogens,” Pack said.

It’s injuries that could lead to children ending up at Doctor’s Hospital.

The CDC has identified 193 cases of severe lung illness possibly linked to vaping from June to August. One of those patients died.

The majority of teens are buying them from gas stations or convenience stores, which means they are not being carded.

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