Audience members watch a video about the dangers of adolescent vaping during a community forum at Royal Oak High School Jan. 15.

Audience members watch a video about the dangers of adolescent vaping during a community forum at Royal Oak High School Jan. 15.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Panel in Royal Oak discusses dangers of youth vaping epidemic

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 21, 2020

 Thomas Gardella, a junior at Royal Oak High School, speaks on a panel including medical professionals and school administrators.

Thomas Gardella, a junior at Royal Oak High School, speaks on a panel including medical professionals and school administrators.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ROYAL OAK — In the last several years, the rise of electronic cigarettes and youth vaping has reached epidemic levels, with the medical research community struggling to keep up with the health impacts.

In October 2019, the first reported vaping-induced, double lung transplant took place at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. The procedure saved the life of a 17-year-old male patient.

Dr. Lisa Allenspach, medical director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program, said that doctors found intense, irreparable scarring in his lungs that appeared to be different from what is typically seen with tobacco cigarettes.

“There’s so much research going on. The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Department of Health are all intensely investigating what is the culprit and what exactly within the vaping products are causing these lung injuries,” she said. “The bottom line is we don’t know.”

While the chemical compound vitamin E acetate has been linked to lungs damaged by vaping, correlation does not equal causation and there are other causes currently being studied, she said.

Allenspach cited a study that interviewed more than 10,000 students and found that 28% of high school students and 11% of middle schoolers reported ongoing use of e-cigarettes. She said three individuals in Michigan have died from vaping-related lung disease, and thousands more throughout the country have been hospitalized.

She added that medical professionals are seeing acute lung injuries in individuals who have only used vaping devices a few times, not habitual users, so the risk is not necessarily tied to a user’s amount of vaping.

“Using e-cigarettes is truly an enormous problem. These products were initially manufactured and at least targeted to the medical community as a way to stop smoking,” she said. “It’s actually now shown to be just the opposite, especially with youth, where it’s actually the segue into cigarettes.”

Short-term effects of vaping include acute lung disease, mouth and throat irritation, nausea, headache and dry cough. The long-term effects are unknown.

Allenspach joined a group of panelists that included Henry Ford’s Tobacco Treatment Services Project Manager Amanda Holm; Lisa Kaplan, program coordinator for Henry Ford’s Maplegrove Center, an addiction treatment facility; Royal Oak High School Principal Michael Giromini; Bloomfield Hills High School Principal Charlie Hollerith; and Thomas Gardella, a junior at Royal Oak High School.

The discussion centered around the dangers of e-cigarettes, how vaping devices are marketed to children, how they can be easily hidden from adults, and how to prevent youth vaping. It took place at Royal Oak High School Jan. 15, in partnership with the American Heart Association and the Royal Oak Community Coalition.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine and flavorings to the user in the form of an aerosol. The flavorings, while approved by the Food and Drug Administration for oral consumption, are not approved for inhalation due to the lack of research regarding the safety of the compounds when inhaled.

According to the American Heart Association, the aerosol includes particles of metals and toxic chemicals linked to heart disease and cancer.

Vaping device designs have become slim and appealing to students, many disguised as flash drives and accessories that come in vibrant colors. Many flavorings also appeal to children, and the aerosol cloud makes for discreet use. Since 2015, JUUL has risen to be the most popular e-cigarette on the market, accounting for 72% of vaping products in the U.S.

A JUUL refill, or pod, reportedly contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes and can last up to 200 puffs. The delivery increases the rate of nicotine and decreases the harsh sensation in the mouth and throat.

“Nicotine is the most addictive chemical there is. I’ve worked with heroin users, and they will tell you it is harder to quit nicotine than to quit heroin,” Kaplan said. “There’s little consistency between (e-cigarette products), so you really don’t know what you’re getting.”

Although recent legislation restricts tobacco sales to individuals 21 and older, some shops sell illegally to minors.

Gardella said he routinely sees kids using vaping products at school.

“If someone really wanted to get one, they could pretty easily, whether it’s going to a store that sells to minors or getting someone (of age) to buy legally and resell them,” Gardella said. “The first time I saw someone vaping was probably when I came into ninth or eighth (grade).”

Hollerith said vaping was the top reason for discipline referrals at Bloomfield Hills High School last school year.

“We knew we had to do education; not only for the staff, but also the students and families in the district,” Hollerith said. “We have a new health curriculum to educate ninth graders. Our best resources are students, who with education become great ambassadors for helping make progress.”

Giromini said the challenge is finding a balance between enforcement and education.

“We don’t want to run a police state. It’s important for (students) to feel safe, supported and welcome, and not every single kid is vaping,” Giromini said. “I think students engaging in any kind of substance abuse are often trying to self-medicate. They’re experiencing something that they don’t have the coping skills for.”

He said schools are focusing more on mental health by adding a social worker to work directly with students to build coping skills, offer support, and connect them with outside resources to help with depression and anxiety.

“I think there’s a sense that a lot more kids are vaping than actually are. It was the same story with cigarettes. It’s still a minority of kids, although a large minority,” Holm said.

She said she believes that, once the idea becomes commonplace that the vaping industry is unethical and spreading false information, the level of youth vaping will decrease like it did with regular tobacco.

For more information, visit or call the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities at (248) 221-7101. The Common Ground and Crisis Helpline can be reached at (800) 231-1127.