City of Houston

How Houston Kids Are Learning About The Dangers Of Vaping

“When vaping came out, it was shown as safer than cigarettes. And you can enjoy tobacco without the negative health effects. It’s something that draws in a lot of people,” says Frukes Deekey, a senior at DeBakey High School downtown who does not vape. 

A person smokes an electronic cigarette.

Vaping has replaced cigarettes for many teens. In fact, 77% of Americans ages 18 to 38 believe that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes, according to a new survey conducted by Harmony Healthcare IT.

"When vaping came out, it was shown as safer than cigarettes. And you can enjoy tobacco without the negative health effects. It's something that draws in a lot of people," says Frukes Deekey, a senior at DeBakey High School downtown who does not vape.

Now some local institutions right here in Houston are taking action. DeBakey High School downtown has initiated a program called ASPIRE within their curriculum, which aims to help students learn about the dangers of vaping. The goal of the program is to keep kids engaged as they learn.

Ashish Arya, MD Anderson Program Director

"It is in a game sort of fashion, it has a storyline, it has characters, they have scores that go through with it," said Ashish Arya, program director at MD Anderson Cancer Center. "And they're trying to save a character as they go along with it."

ASPIRE is done entirely online, with students earning a certificate of completion upon finishing the program.

Roughly 15 other school districts in the Houston area have also signed on to utilize ASPIRE. MD Anderson reps say they hope more districts will utilize it as well, so more young vapors know what the risk is.

The number of vaping deaths has actually led the Center for Disease Control to name a new lung disease, calling it EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. There have been more than 2600 EVALI cases nationwide according to the CDC, with 80% of them under the age of 35, who often gravitate toward candy-like flavors offered by manufacturers, Arya said.

The flavored mixtures are sealed in a cartridge that is heated to produce the vapor that’s inhaled. But what researchers find most troubling is another kind of e-cigarette called "open-pod."

Instead of a sealed cartridge, it’s open so vapors can add their own ingredients like THC, the main ingredient in marijuana.

"The working theory now is what's causing this severe lung injury is actually vaping THC plus vitamin E, or another oil," says Dr. Maher Karam with MD Anderson

According to a new CDC study, 82% of hospitalized patients say they're dual vapors of marijuana and e-cigarettes. Pot is illegal in Texas and most states across the country, so users must go to an alternative source, like drug dealers.

"(Dealers) were actually adulterating the THC to make more of it, by mixing it with vitamin E, because in oil it looks like THC," Karam said. "So they can sell more."

It is unknown exactly why Vitamin E harms the lungs, but according to the Harmony Healthcare IT study, 30% of e-cigarette users also vape marijuana.

Younger people tend to gravitate toward e-cigarettes despite the potential danger in part because they're marketed in ways to appeal to young people, with flashy buttons and lights that give it a high-tech feel, Arya said.

"Gadgets have a certain attraction for anybody, and this is another gadget," he said.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required

Share