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‘Only time will tell’: Student, faculty react to vaping illness outbreak


A Juul sits on a table Sept. 15. Ty Vinson

Twelve deaths, 805 cases – the number of people affected by vaping-related lung illness is growing every day. 

Indiana has 30 to 49 cases reported and one death linked to vaping. 

The latest findings suggest vaping products containing THC is a factor in this outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, some patients reported using only nicotine products.

Cathy Wyatt, IU Health Center Tobacco Cessation Program manager, said she’s seen more students coming to her wanting to quit after the reports came out.

The Health Center Tobacco Cessation Program works as an accountability program to help students quit. Wyatt said students come and visit her often and she provides them with nicotine patches and other products to help them quit. 

She said she’s seen one student with a collapsed lung who only vaped nicotine. 

“My numbers tripled after recent news reports,” Wyatt said. “Before that, only a very few individuals were taking advantage of our free cessation service.” 

The CDC suspects the cause is chemical exposure, but the chemical causing lung injuries is still unknown.

“My personal view is that anything we inhale that is laced with any chemical is a risk,” Wyatt said. “When you combust it and inhale it, it’s not the same chemicals anymore.”

An IU student from California who uses THC cartridges believes if marijuana was legal, fewer people would die because fake cartridges wouldn’t be as common. 

Fake cartridges are vape oil cartridges that dealers can refill with different substances, like THC oil, which means the user doesn’t always know what he or she is inhaling. 

“This stuff is super scary but it doesn’t scare me in particular because I’m super aware of what I’m buying and what I should look out for,” the student said. 

The student said he found information online on what to look for in fakes of brands, and if he is offered a fake, he won’t buy it. He tries to get their cartridges from California when he can because those cartridges are regulated by the government. 

The student only occasionally vapes nicotine and doesn’t own a nicotine vape himself, but agrees that it is bad for you. 

“It’s an epidemic for sure,” he said. “There are so many people who do it, and we don’t know the consequences. We’re starting to see a few of them, but long-term we don’t know what is going to happen in 40 years.” 

He said some people he knows are thinking about quitting vaping. 

The student said he thinks the recent legislation to ban flavored e-cigarette products is a smart move because it will deter younger people from vaping, but the student worries a downside could be people turning toward cigarettes instead.

“I think only time will really tell,” he said. 

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