JAFFREY — In response to thousands of vaping-associated lung injuries reported nationwide, a Conant High School science class recently investigated vaping’s potential health risks.
The Jaffrey high school’s human anatomy and physiology class — taught by Margie Clark-Kevan and open to juniors and seniors — exposed pig lungs and stomachs to common vaping ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and compared the results to control organs.
“I definitely feel like our school has an issue with [vaping],” said Hannah Lambert, 17, of Jaffrey, who is in the class. “I know that people are caught in the bathroom vaping or out in the parking lot, so getting the message out ... maybe they’ll see the results and not do it anymore.”
Conant High is hardly alone in contending with vaping among youths.
Twenty-four percent of high school students in the Granite State said they’d used a vaping product in 2017, according to data provided by the state’s Division of Public Health Services, compared to 13 percent nationwide. For the Monadnock Region, the rate was 18 percent.
As of Jan. 7, at least 2,602 vaping-associated lung injuries and 57 deaths nationwide had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since June. Three cases have been tallied in New Hampshire, none of which have been fatal.
People with the lung disease often experience symptoms gradually, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath and chest pain before being hospitalized, according to the CDC. Other symptoms that have been reported are vomiting, diarrhea, fever and fatigue.
The potential vaping ingredients used in the Conant experiment were vitamin E acetate, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and benzoic acid dissolved in propylene glycol. Each group of students used a different ingredient at varied percentages to spray over each experimental lung between three and five days, while water was sprayed over the control lung.
Each experimental stomach was also exposed to one of the ingredients, while the control stomach was sprayed with water.
Vitamin E acetate — oil derived from vitamin E that typically does not cause harm when ingested or applied to the skin — is one of the potential leads in the CDC’s investigation into vaping-related illnesses.
Clark-Kevan admitted to her students she didn’t expect much from the results due to the experiment’s limitations.
“The lungs and stomach were fresh, but not living, which meant that they lacked functions, and it limited the time that we had to use them,” she wrote in the experiment’s analysis. “Although the students tried to mimic a vaping environment, ingredients were mainly administered externally — again due to the lack of living, breathing tissue.”
But because vaping is an important issue, Clark-Kevan wrote that she still wanted to pursue the experiment.
During a phone interview Monday morning, a handful of the class’ students said the experiment went better than anticipated, and the results were startling.
The experimental lungs turned black and deteriorated, regardless of the FDA-approved ingredient they were exposed to, the students said.
When benzoic acid was used, black patches and discoloration on the lung appeared within only five minutes, and for the propylene glycol group, nearly the entire lung turned black, according to the students’ findings.
“I personally didn’t vape before this, and a majority of the class didn’t, but it was quite eye-opening to see the effects on tissues first hand,” said Silas Bernier, 18, of Jaffrey.
Students presented their findings Friday to Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School students to help discourage future vaping use, according to Principal Brett Blanchard.
“We tried doing something last year with vaping, but I don’t think it was overly effective,” he said. “I found that students will listen to fellow students more than they will to adults presenting them to the evils of the world.”
Bernier agreed with Blanchard, saying she hopes the reality of their presentation sets in with the younger kids.
“A lot of middle school students look up to high school students,” she said,” and to tell them vaping and Juuling has critical consequences will help them process that information and refuse to do that.”
To enroll in New Hampshire’s vaping cessation program, My Life, My Quit, visit www.mylifemyquit.com or call or text “start my quit” to 1-855-891-9989.
Those interested in QuitNow-NH can enroll at www.quitnownh.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.