MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The number of e-cigarette and vaping-related lung injuries continues to climb with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 2,172 cases so far in 49 states, including Florida.
Forty-two people have died.
One Miami Beach teen almost became another statistic when he says his lung collapsed because of vaping.
And he tells CBS 4 he hopes sharing his near-death experience will help others quit.
For Chance Ammirata, getting behind the wheel, will forever remind him of the day his life almost changed forever.
“I was driving on the highway on my way to the bowling alley,” he said. “I laughed and I knew something was so wrong. That laugh resulted in me losing control of the car on the highway.”
“I felt like my chest was caving in on itself. And I literally thought to myself, you’re having a heart attack,” Chance explained.
But at just 18 years old, an EKG showed Chance’s heart was fine.
His lungs, however, were not.
“I remember the lead surgeon hovering over me and saying, ‘Listen your lung has collapsed you have to go into surgery right now.’ And I was just in shock. The only thought I had was ‘Am I going to die?'”
After 8 days at in the hospital, he went home with a second chance at life and a new mission to get kids and teens to quit vaping, which he says is to blame for his health scare.
He says he started using a Juul device during his junior year in high school and quickly became addicted.
“I liked the mint pods. Those were my favorite at the time. Most people in high school were chasing this buzz you would get from it. So basically you would take 3 or 4 hits. You’d feel like your body was floating. All your stress was like instantaneously gone. But after 2 minutes it would go away. That’s basically what that nicotine rush was doing to me,” he said.
But he says he had no idea what it was doing to his lungs until it was almost too late.
“The doctor compared to my lungs to a fifty-year-old man,” Chance said.
“The X-rays are alarming in these people. Looks like almost a chemical pneumonitis. Like you inhaled something from toxic gas,” explained Dr. Glenn Singer.
Dr. Singer is the Director of Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Broward Health Medical Center.
He didn’t treat Chance but recognizes the growing epidemic among young people.
“Over 50 percent (of users) are 24 years of age or younger. So what do we know about this? We know that most of the cases, roughly 87 percent are associated with a THC marijuana type cartridge that people are using,” Dr. Singer said.
The CDC recently identified Vitamin E acetate as a chemical of concern among people with e-cigarette or vaping product use associated with lung injury.
“None of us are recommending that it be used and it shouldn’t be used by anyone,” Dr. Singer said. “The only thing you should put in your lungs is air.”
That’s the same message from a group of students at Miami Palmetto Senior High School.
“All e-cigarettes are NOT safe for Florida’s youth. And that is what we’ll be talking about today,” the leader of SWAT, or Students Working Against Tobacco, told a group of students recently.
SWAT talks to fellow classmates about the dangers of traditional smoking and vaping.
“It’s a lot due to peer pressure,” SWAT member Ashley Thompson said. “There’s a lot of peer pressure in this school, in this community, in the nation. That the Juul is cool. That vaping is cool. It’s seen as a very mature thing to do. And everybody kind of wants to be cool.”
Both Miami-Dade and Broward public schools have implemented programs and policies to curb vaping and e-cigarette use, which include consequences for those caught using the devices on campus.
As for Chance, you might see him at a school near you soon.
He created the “Lung Love Foundation” to educate others about the dangers of vaping and is planning to speak to local students while also lobbying for change in the industry.
“Kids are getting hooked on a product that they made for apparently cigarette smokers to quit smoking. Great, but that’s not the case. Kids are getting hooked on Juuls and other vape devices because of the fruity flavors and the sleek design, and the concealability.”
President Trump has said he plans to meet with medical professionals and vaping industry representatives to come up with an “acceptable solution”.