Vape Australia: terrifying warning issued

By Charlie Coe for Daily Mail Australia

A mother has issued a heartbreaking warning about the dangers of vaping after her 15-year-old daughter’s secret habit left her with a life-threatening rare lung disease.

Sydney teenager Dakota Stephenson went to hospital with a high temperature and back pain last September, seven months after she started vaping with friends at school.

Dakota was diagnosed with hypoxia within hours – meaning her lungs weren’t getting enough air – and spent three days on partial ventilation struggling to breathe.

Sydney schoolgirl Dakota Stephenson, 15, spent three days on partial ventilation, struggling to breathe after starting to vape

Her doctors at Randwick Children’s Hospital believe she had a lung condition called EVALI which was first reported in the United States in 2019.

EVALI – which stands for lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarettes or vaping products – is believed to be caused by vapes containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive substance also found in marijuana, and the additive acetate Vitamin E.

Dakota’s mother, Natasha Stephenson, didn’t find out her daughter had started vaping until she was admitted to hospital.

“She was really sick,” Ms Stephenson told Daily Mail Australia. “They removed a dozen syringes from his lungs to drain 250ml of fluid that had accumulated from vaping.”

The teenager started vaping in early 2020 before switching to nicotine cartridges and at her peak smoked up to three times a week with her friends.

“Sometimes it was an everyday vape,” her mom said.

“She was asking $5 to buy snacks or go to McDonald’s after school, but we didn’t know she was saving that money to buy nicotine cartridges.

“The guy she was buying them from would bring them in with different flavors like grape, strawberry and watermelon.

“It’s basically a kids’ menu.”

Dakota in the photo on the left.  Doctors at Randwick Children's Hospital believe she had a newly discovered lung condition called EVALI

Dakota in the photo on the left. Doctors at Randwick Children’s Hospital believe she had a newly discovered lung condition called EVALI

Ms Stephenson said she wanted e-cigarettes banned and called on Australian authorities to get tough on manufacturers who put potentially harmful chemicals in their products.

“I don’t see why Australia can’t just ban them from the market,” she said.

“You can also order vapes online. It’s too easy for young people to get their hands on.

The teen’s mother said she wants e-cigarettes banned

While Dakota was discharged from the hospital after a week, abnormal growths called nodules still showed up on her lung scans months after she was discharged.

“They call them popcorn lungs – the nodules eventually burst on their own. But if Dakota runs or does PE, she’s always out of breath,” her mom said.

A respiratory expert said that although Dakota has never used a vaping device containing THC, her case meets all of the obvious criteria for EVALI.

Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital respiratory doctor Eli Dabscheck said doctors may never know for sure what caused his lungs to fill with fluid.

“There are certainly risks associated with nicotine in terms of cardiac toxicity. It’s definitely not something I would want my kids to do,” he told ABC News.

Between March 2019 and February 2020, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,807 hospitalized cases of EVALI.

Pictured is a scan of the teenager's lung, which was filled with fluid.  A few hours after he was admitted to hospital, he was diagnosed with hypoxia, which means his lungs were not getting enough air.

Pictured is a scan of the teenager’s lung, which was filled with fluid. A few hours after he was admitted to hospital, he was diagnosed with hypoxia, which means his lungs were not getting enough air.

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