Alarming number of Minnesota teens getting 'nic sick' from e-cigarettes

April 14, 2019 10:39 PM

There have been a lot of headlines recently about e-cigarettes. It's called vaping.

E-cigarettes are marketed as being safer than cigarettes or a way to quit smoking tobacco. But vape juices mixed with high levels of nicotine are making teens "nic sick."

"One of the first times that I got nic sick, it was when I was trying the vapes," said Blaine High School Junior Marissa Nielsen. She received permission from her parents to speak with us. 

Marissa hopes her personal story will grab the attention of other teens. She attends a confidential chemical health support group at Blaine High School hosted by Amber Hewitt, from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge "Know the Truth" prevention program.

"She knows it's not good for her. A lot of these kids do," said Hewitt. "Vaping is the hot topic, right now. I've heard it described multiple times as an epidemic."

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen vaping surged in 2018. One in five high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers currently use e-cigarettes.

Marissa told us she is addicted.

"Yes. And, I've currently been experiencing feelings of nic sick. I would describe it as the worst nausea, the worst headache, dizziness; I felt like I was going to faint," she said.

"Technically, what it is is nicotine poisoning," said Hewitt. "I think a lot of parents have this misconception that it's better for their kids than actually smoking cigarettes when in reality, again, we just don't know."

There are state and federal regulations about who can use e-cigarettes, where they are purchased and how they are marketed. But there are no rules about how much nicotine can be in the liquid. And the Minnesota Department of Health told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that's a concern because many vape shops mix it themselves.

"You can buy like 3mg, that's a really low dose," said Marissa. "Or it can go up to like, almost 24mg in regular vape juice. But salt nic, it ranges from 25 to 30 to 50. 50 being the highest. That's what makes you really sick."

Because nicotine levels vary in e-juice, it's hard to compare it to cigarettes. But, experts agree vaping nicotine is more potent than smoking tobacco. And since e-cigarettes were only introduced about a decade ago, there is no information about the long-term health impact on teens.

"They're the guinea pig generation," said Hewitt. "You know, we don't quite know yet what exactly will come from this."

"It's adding up to an insane amount of nicotine that you're consuming," said Marissa. "I want people to know that it is making other people sick."

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is hosting an informational event for parents on teens and vaping. It runs from 6-8 p.m., on April 16, at the Anoka-Hennepin Educational Service Center (ESC), located at 2727 N Ferry Street in Anoka.

Parents can learn more about what an e-cigarette is, what different types of vaping devices are available and how to spot them, and how to talk to your teens about the risks and consequences of vaping. 

If you have questions, you can contact the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge "Know the Truth" anonymous text line at 612-440-3967.

Teen tobacco use is up in Minnesota for the first time in 17 years. Missing it MN has all the facts.

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a nonprofit committed to helping families struggling with their son's or daughter's substance use, has an essential resource guide for parents and caregivers, "Vaping: What You Need to Know And How to Talk With Your Kids." 

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Kevin Doran

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