Vaping put me in hospital – I fear kids could die without urgent crackdown on UK’s child e-cig epidemic

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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A man who was left with a collapsed lung after using disposable e-cigarettes for just four months has warned kids to never start vaping. 

Alex Gittins, from Bishop Auckland in County Durham, was hospitalised last spring after struggling to breathe after vaping.

He was forced have part of his lung removed and stapled back together, spent weeks on a ward recovering and couldn’t work for months.

Mr Gittins has warned that ‘kids could die’ from vaping and urged smokers looking to quit to turn to nicotine patches instead of the devices.

It comes as the Government today announced disposable vapes would be axed as part of a crackdown on youth vaping after years of impassioned pleas to tackle what has been dubbed an ‘epidemic’.

Alex Gittins (pictured), from Bishop Auckland in County Durham, was hospitalised last spring after struggling to breathe after vaping. He was forced have part of his lung removed and stapled back together, spent weeks on a ward recovering and couldn’t work for months 

Mr Gittins has warned that 'kids could die' from vaping and urged smokers looking to quit to turn to nicotine patches instead of the devices. Mr Gittins began buying six disposable vapes for £20 from a corner shop early last year a nd had smoked several without any issue. But last May he suddenly experienced a 'horrible taste' in his throat that left him struggling to breathe

Mr Gittins has warned that ‘kids could die’ from vaping and urged smokers looking to quit to turn to nicotine patches instead of the devices. Mr Gittins began buying six disposable vapes for £20 from a corner shop early last year a nd had smoked several without any issue. But last May he suddenly experienced a ‘horrible taste’ in his throat that left him struggling to breathe

After his chest pains worsened while driving, he rushed to a walk-in centre in Hartlepool and was instructed to go to nearest hospital instead. Once at A&E in Darlington, medics told him his right lung had collapsed. He was transferred to a respiratory ward to reinflate his lung

After his chest pains worsened while driving, he rushed to a walk-in centre in Hartlepool and was instructed to go to nearest hospital instead. Once at A&E in Darlington, medics told him his right lung had collapsed. He was transferred to a respiratory ward to reinflate his lung

Shock data earlier this year revealed a record 11.6 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds in Britain have now tried vaping. This is up on 7.7 per cent last year and twice as high as rates seen a decade ago, before the UK's kid vaping epidemic blew up

Shock data earlier this year revealed a record 11.6 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds in Britain have now tried vaping. This is up on 7.7 per cent last year and twice as high as rates seen a decade ago, before the UK’s kid vaping epidemic blew up

Under proposal that hope to prevent thousands of kids from becoming ‘hooked for life’, vapes are expected to be limited to just four flavours, sold in plain, tobacco-style packaging and displayed out of sight of kids. 

Additionally, new ‘on the spot’ fines will also be brought in for shops illegally selling vapes to children.

E-cigs work by heating a liquid that typically contains nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavourings and other chemicals, which users inhale.

Unlike traditional cigarettes, they do not contain tobacco, nor do they produce tar or carbon — two of the most dangerous elements.

Although widely viewed as safer than smoking, the long-term effects of vaping still remain a mystery. 

What are the symptoms of a lung collapse? 

A lung collapses, medically called a pneumothorax has variety of symptoms.

The  common symptoms area sudden shortness of breath and chest pain.

This pain may be sharp and become worse with coughing and breathing.  

Patients can also experience a dry cough.

In some cases, where air has leaked into the muscles and skin in the chest wall, patients may notice a swelling and ‘bubble wrap’ sensation as they press on their chest.

If the leak of air from the lung is very large people can also feel faint or lightheaded.  

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Doctors have expressed fear there could be a wave of lung disease, dental issues and cancer in the coming decades among people who began vaping when young.

Mr Gittins said: ‘The ban is a step in the right direction but I’d also be worried that it might lead to a increase in black market sales.

‘If they stop selling in shops, someone will sell just sell fake ones. But hopefully overall it will reduce the number of people vaping.’

Speaking of his injuries he added: ‘My major concern is that this could have happened to kids.

‘You know what a fag does to you, you don’t know what a vape does. Something’s not right — kids could die.’

Mr Gittins began buying six disposable vapes for £20 from a corner shop early last year and had smoked several without any issue.

But last May he suddenly experienced a ‘horrible taste’ in his throat that left him struggling to breathe. 

He said: ‘I started smoking it when it suddenly didn’t create the mist properly. There was a horrible taste in my throat.

‘Then five or ten minutes later I was stood there and breathing in, but it felt like I had a massive stitch. It started getting worst over the next hour.’

Vapes, which are currently sold for as little as £3, have been compared to highlighter pens because of the snazzy displays in shops across the UK. Brands such as Elf Bar and Lost Mary are hugely popular among teenagers. The number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled. Figures show nine per cent of children aged 11 to 15 now vape, with the long-term health impacts still unknown

Vapes, which are currently sold for as little as £3, have been compared to highlighter pens because of the snazzy displays in shops across the UK. Brands such as Elf Bar and Lost Mary are hugely popular among teenagers. The number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled. Figures show nine per cent of children aged 11 to 15 now vape, with the long-term health impacts still unknown

After his chest pains worsened while driving, he rushed to a walk-in centre in Hartlepool and was instructed to go to nearest hospital instead.

Once at A&E in Darlington, medics told him his right lung had collapsed. He was transferred to a respiratory ward to reinflate his lung.

A collapsed lung, known medically as pneumothorax, occurs when air leaks into the pleural cavity — the space between the outside of the lung and ribcage. 

Pneumothorax can be caused by various respiratory conditions, congenital defects in the organ that are only cause issues later in life, or traumatic injury.

However, in many occasions it is spontaneous with no apparent cause. 

About one in three people who suffer a pneumothorax go on to suffer another lung collapse within a year, according to the NHS.

A chest drain or needle is often used by medics to relieve pressure on the lung and remove the excess air. 

But Mr Gittins’ lung failed to reinflate two days after his chest drain, with fluid still stuck in his lung. 

He was transferred to a hospital in Middlesbrough, where surgeons removed a piece of his lung before stapling it back together.

He was only discharged on June 9 and returned to work two months later in August. 

Now largely nicotine free, he only wears a nicotine patch when at the pub. 

He said his advice to people looking to quit smoking is: ‘Go get a box of nicotine patches. Vaping is not a good idea.’

NHS Digital data, based on the smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England survey for the year 2021, showed 30 per cent of children in Yorkshire and the Humber have used a vape

NHS Digital data, based on the smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England survey for the year 2021, showed 30 per cent of children in Yorkshire and the Humber have used a vape 

Experts have welcomed the crackdown, saying that they 'fully support' the approach and were 'extremely pleased' to see restrictions on packaging. But others have also cautioned that 'legislation in this area should be nuanced and careful', given vaping can help people who smoke tobacco cigarettes to quit

Experts have welcomed the crackdown, saying that they ‘fully support’ the approach and were ‘extremely pleased’ to see restrictions on packaging. But others have also cautioned that ‘legislation in this area should be nuanced and careful’, given vaping can help people who smoke tobacco cigarettes to quit

Campaigners have long called for much tougher regulations on marketing to children and a tax on disposable vapes, which are most popular among teens. 

In his war on vaping, Rishi Sunak announced ministers will ban disposable vapes – the weapon of choice for teenagers in 2024.

E-cigs are also set to be limited to a handful of flavours, sold in plain, tobacco-style packaging and displayed out of sight of kids under the ambitious plans. 

It will mean the end of predatory packaging designed to make vapes look like highlighter pens. 

New ‘on the spot’ fines will be brought in for shops illegally selling vapes to children, under Mr Sunak’s plan.

The number of children using vapes in the past three years has tripled. Figures show nine per cent of children aged 11 to 15 now vape, with the long-term health impacts still unknown.

This is despite sales of e-cigarettes to under-18s being banned.

Experts have welcomed the crackdown, saying that they ‘fully support’ the approach and were ‘extremely pleased’ to see restrictions on packaging.

But others have also cautioned that ‘legislation in this area should be nuanced and careful’, given vaping can help people who smoke tobacco cigarettes to quit.

Mr Sunak said that the ban on disposable vapes — set to be enforced by early 2025 — was balanced and the ‘right’ action.

When implemented, the proposals will follow in the footsteps of countries including parts the US and Canada that already restrict flavours. 

Everything you need to know about e-cigarettes 

How much nicotine is in an e-cigarette?

There are many different brands of e-cigarettes, containing various different nicotine levels.

The legal amount of nicotine in an e-liquid capacity in the UK is 20mg/ml equating to between 600 and 800 puffs.

The Elf Bar 600, one of Britain’s most popular vapes, is advertised as coming in nicotine strengths of 0mg, 10mg and 20mg. 

How many cigarettes are ‘in’ an e-cigarette? 

The Elf Bar 600 contains the equivalent to 48 cigarettes, analysts say. 

It delivers 600 puffs before it needs to be thrown away, meaning, in theory, every 12.5 puffs equate to one cigarette.

Experts say for many e-cigarettes, 100 puffs equate to ten normal cigarettes. 

Elf Bars are a brand of e-cigarettes often sold in snazzy colours and with child-friendly names and flavours, like blue razz lemonade and green gummy bear

Is vaping better for your health than cigarettes?

Vaping products are considered to be better than cigarettes as users are exposed to fewer toxins and at lower levels, according to the NHS.

The health service adds that vaping instead of smoking cigarettes reduces your exposure to toxins that can cause cancer, lung disease and diseases of the heart and circulation, such as strokes and heart attacks. 

Public Health England, which is now defunct, published an expert independent review in 2015 concluding that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes.

However vaping is not risk-free, as while levels in tobacco-products are much higher, e-cigarettes still contain harmful toxins, according to a study by researchers from the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.

And Dr Onkar Mudhar, a London dentist who posts videos on TikTok, said Elf bars can cause gum inflammation, swelling and bleeding.

He said this is because nicotine dries out your mouth and reduces saliva, causing irritation from a build-up of bacteria and food that can’t get washed away.

Nearly 350 hospitalisations due to vaping were logged in England in 2022, which are thought to be mainly down to respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, lung inflammation and, in severe cases, respiratory failure. 

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