Heidi Pardon was living in UW-Eau Claire’s dorms several years ago when she noticed a surprising number of fellow Blugolds using e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
While her peers insisted that it was safe and harmless fun, the future nurse knew that inhaling nicotine and/or other chemicals into their lungs could not possibly be safe or harmless.
Three years later — with vaping now deemed a national public health epidemic among teens and young adults — Pardon is partnering with a UW-Eau Claire nursing professor to help educate teens and young adults about its dangers.
“I see it all over campus,” Pardon said of vaping. “People think it’s harmless and cool. I’m hoping that they’ll think twice about doing it when they become more aware of the chemicals and other stuff they’re inhaling. They think it’s safer than smoking, but it’s not.”
Last spring, Pardon and Diane Marcyjanik, an assistant professor of nursing, received a Gritzmacher Science Education Fellowship to support their project, “Vaping: A New Public Health Safety Concern.” The fellowship provides the researchers with a stipend as well as some monies for supplies and travel.
Marcyjanik and Pardon, a senior from Slinger, spent the summer researching vaping and vaping-related health issues, and now are putting the finishing touches on an evidence-based educational presentation on the effects of vaping and e-cigarettes.
They plan to share their findings with students at middle and high schools, as well as with college students, parents, educators, health care providers and others with an interest in the issue. Their first presentation is scheduled with a Native American community in October.
“The vaping epidemic is hitting adolescent teens and young adults the most,” Pardon said. “We want to raise awareness for these populations and with those who have an impact on this age group like teachers and parents. We hope to share it in communities across Wisconsin and beyond.”
Their presentation touches on what’s in the vaping liquids and the potential health implications when those liquids are inhaled, while also stressing that vaping is still so new that little is known about the long-term health effects.
While many questions remain, health care professionals do know that nicotine and other chemicals often found in e-cigarettes and vaping liquids can be damaging to the developing adolescent brain, Marcyjanik says.
“We know that teens’ brains are not done developing until they are 25 so it’s going to have an effect,” Marcyjanik says. “What we don’t know yet is how it will affect their brains long term. There is just so much that is still unknown, which makes it even scarier.”
The vaping, “juuling” and e-cigarette industries advertise vaping as a safe alternative to smoking, something that simply isn’t true, Marcyjanik and Pardon said.
Much like a duck can’t fly if it has oil on its wings, a lung can’t expand and contract as it should if it has oil on its lining, Marcyjanik said when describing some of the health dangers related to vaping.
Even more alarming is that vaping juices are being manufactured and sold on the black market, so buyers have no idea what is in the vaping juices they’re inhaling, Pardon and Marcyjanik said.
Research also shows that many teens who vape, do end up smoking, which creates even more long-term health concerns, they said.
Still another area of concern is the impact the vaping smoke has on the health of people around them, Pardon said. While there is a lot of research about the impact of second-hand cigarette smoke, it’s too soon to know how the chemicals released into the air from vapes and e-cigarettes will affect those who are exposed to it, she says.
Vaping already was a significant health concern last spring when they began their project, but it has taken on even greater urgency given the growing number of teens and young adults who have died or been hospitalized in recent weeks because of vaping-related health problems.
Already, six teens or young adults have died and hundreds more have been hospitalized because of health issues traced to their vaping.
Pardon is grateful to have received a fellowship that is giving her an opportunity to make a difference in the community, while also gaining new skills that will be valuable in her future career in health care.
“I’m passionate about health care and promoting healthy living habits,” Pardon says. “After doing this research, I can see the detrimental effects vaping is having on young people. I’d love to say this presentation will immediately change peoples’ behaviors, but my realistic goal is just to get this information to as many people as possible.”