“Both of them are a type of venomous snake,” Dr. Hassan Nemeh, surgical director of thoracic organ transplant at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit told RT. “I don’t know if a snake is more venomous than the other – if a bite kills someone by a mamba or a cobra I’m not sure which is worse. I think both of them are bad for you, though.”
Nemeh performed a life-saving double-lung transplant on a 17-year-old boy – a formerly-healthy high school athlete – in October, believed to be the first such surgery performed on a patient with a vaping-related illness. Despite his extensive experience in the operating room (Nemeh has been doing lung transplants for 20 years) he was not prepared for what he saw inside his patient, calling the boy’s condition “an evil I haven’t faced before” in an interview with the New York Times.
“Despite my expectation from the X-ray, honestly, I was a little surprised at how bad the lung felt and looked,” Nemeh elaborated to RT. Unlike smoking, vaping causes extensive scarring and fibrosis of the lungs; in the pre-transplant patient, the normal lung tissue had been completely replaced by scarring. “It looked more like a liver than a lung, actually.”
Over 2,400 serious illnesses or deaths have been linked to vaping since the Centers for Disease Control began tracking the phenomenon in March. It has been all the more devastating since doctors initially believed vaping was relatively harmless – unlike cigarettes, which are known to cause cancer, emphysema, and all manner of other serious ailments. Science has yet to agree on what exact substance is causing the mysterious illness, with symptoms including low-grade fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath; however, a vitamin E acetate found in black market THC vape liquid has been fingered as the culprit.
While most of those afflicted with the vape-related illness (86 percent) smoked these black market cartridges, several US states have reacted by banning all flavored e-cigarettes, while Walmart has joined countries like South Korea and India and stopped selling vapes entirely. These bans could have the effect of causing more health problems – by forcing users to either play Russian roulette with black market vape juice or turn to cigarettes. A federal flavored-vape ban proposed by the White House earlier this year was put on ice last month after an outcry from voters. Many switched to vaping from smoking cigarettes, which kills 480,000 Americans every year according to the CDC – dwarfing the 57 deaths recorded this year from vape-related illness.
However, Nemeh warned against treating vaping as a safe alternative to smoking or even as a way to quit. “People were hoping that it doesn’t have as many dire consequences, but clearly we’re seeing effects that are really, really bad, and sometimes over a shorter period of time,” he explained. Asked whether he would ban smoking or vaping first, Nemeh insisted both should be illegal, accusing e-cigarette manufacturers of targeting children.
“When you make [children] addicts on nicotine, you create a disaster for the future generation.”